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Pappalardi hires himself to coach lacrosse team

By TODD SLISS
SCARSDALE INQUIRER/JIM MACLEAN

Ray Pappalardi works with the Scarsdale girls lacrosse team on the second day of preseason this week.

 

Ray Kinsella was prepared to “Go the distance” in the book “Shoeless Joe”/movie “Field of Dreams.”

Ray Pappalardi is prepared to do the same for the Scarsdale girls lacrosse team.

The third-year Scarsdale athletic director has made five firings of head varsity coaches with differing degrees of controversy in the just under two years and with the most recent, Genette Zonghetti from girls lacrosse just one month before preseason, Pappalardi knew he’d have a challenge ahead of him.

Not only would it be difficult to find a quality coach on short notice, but there has been concern from members of the community whether any quality coaches would want to come to a school that has lost eight head coaches — three resigned in addition to the five fired — since the summer of 2016.

Pappalardi had two strong candidates for the lacrosse job lined up last week. One interviewed with a committee that included team members, but both pulled their names from consideration. One got a new job and the other had an unforeseen personal circumstance.

Unless Pappalardi finds a suitable replacement sometime during this spring, he will coach the team with help four days a week from Megan Matthews, who is a K/1 teacher at Quaker Ridge Elementary School and formerly coached in the program, while Jessica Hanson returns as the junior varsity coach.

“We just figured out we would pool our resources we had available within the district to give the girls the best experience possible and continue the search until we find somebody,” Pappalardi said.

Pappalardi is no stranger to filling in as a coach from his Edgemont days. He spent several years as the gymnastics coach there and smaller amounts of time at various levels for sports like lacrosse, soccer, softball and track while new coaches were being sought and/or approved. “Sometimes you just have to do it,” he said.

With the help of some returning members of the varsity team, Pappalardi created “a detailed search profile” for potential applicants. “We thought we had that and we didn’t, so instead of lowering what we were looking for we decided to continue the search to find the type of people we’re looking for to lead the program,” Pappalardi said. “We’ve got some coaches who I think are incredibly dynamic, work well with the kids and know the game. Now we’re just looking to see who can lead the program in the future.”

If a coach is found during the season, Pappalardi would likely stay with the team during the transition phase. “I’m here for the season if they need me,” he said.

In what he called his “first life as a coach,” Pappalardi, who does have his most extensive background as a competitor and a coach in gymnastics, did coach other sports. “Mostly boys lacrosse, some girls lacrosse, some field hockey,” he said.

Pappalardi emailed the team late last week to tell them he’d be coaching. At that point he began picking the brain of the coach whom Zonghetti took over for, CeCe Berger. When Berger stepped down in 2013 after taking over in 2005, she had no intention of coaching, but was snagged by her hometown team in Greenwich in Connecticut, a state that doesn’t allow coaches to work with their players in the offseason. She accepted the job close to home knowing the commitment would be much less.

“I spent a lot of time with the resource we have in the district,” Pappalardi said, referring to Berger.

Pappalardi was getting up to speed on changes in the game, the rules and strategy. “I can’t blame her for any mistakes I make, but I do have to give her credit for a lot of the things I will know now and in the next few weeks,” he said.


Losing their coaches

While members of the boys basketball team had to come to grips with third-year coach Billy Murphy being let go with three games left in the regular season on Friday, Feb. 2, Zonghetti and her assistant sister Gail were let go that same night, minutes after completing Week 3 of winter workouts with the girls lacrosse team.

“We were with them 4 o’clock in the gym on a Friday afternoon and they were like, ‘We’ll see you guys after, we’re going to a meeting,’ and we never saw them again,” junior Chessy Greenwald said. “I certainly didn’t think anything was going to happen. I knew there were some problems that arose, not specifically with me, but I know in the past some kids have been unhappy, but I don’t think anyone expected it. We were shocked.”

“One minute we were all at a workout and the next thing we knew we saw a Tweet and we had no coaches,” senior captain Holly Rittmaster said. “It happened really fast and they were blindsided, we were blindsided. We all didn’t see it coming.”

It was more the timing that concerned the girls than the loss of the coaches. Steckel said, “There were definitely mixed feelings” about the previous coaches.

“Some people weren’t happy, maybe not as excited to go to practice as they would like to have been,” senior captain Lily Steckel said. “Other people didn’t really have an opinion on that and other people really enjoyed going to practice.”

Said Greenwald, “It really depends on who they were, but because of timing the most appropriate response was just being shocked and surprised.”

Genette Zonghetti spent 10 years as Sharon Rosenthal’s assistant coach for field hockey and the duo led the Raiders to three Section 1 finals. In 2016, Scarsdale won the Section 1 title and made the state finals. Just days after the Zonghettis were fired, Rosenthal resigned as coach. She said she couldn’t give 100 percent to the program without her top assistants.

In her second year at Scarsdale, Zonghetti started assisting Berger. In 2014, Zonghetti was hired as head coach and brought Gail on to be her assistant.

Zonghetti also assisted Mike Blanco with girls basketball from her third year at Scarsdale until she stepped down following the 2016-17 season.

Genette is now the second varsity assistant at Bronxville, while Gail is the JV coach there. They were hired within days of being fired from Scarsdale.


Moving forward

Preseason/tryouts began Monday this week and continued Tuesday, with snow days Wednesday and Thursday costing all teams a pair of workouts. Pappalardi was clear with the girls from the beginning that he is the coach whether for a week, the entire season or somewhere in between. He wanted the girls to know they had nothing to worry about when it came to their season.

Thirty-five girls showed up for varsity and JV. Based on the energy, the worth ethic and skill level Pappalardi saw over the two days, he expects everyone will be placed on one of the teams.

“So far it’s been great vibes,” Greenwald said, adding, “I think change is good.”

The girls are seeing a different side of Pappalardi and better understanding his philosophy when it comes to high school athletics.

“Interacting with him you really see his intentions and he has really good intentions for our team,” Steckel said. “He stated to us before and after tryouts both days all he wants for us is to have a fun, successful season. He sees both sides to the sport. It’s a competitive sport and we want to win. Winning is fun. At the same time you just want to have a good time. All the players were really happy that he sees both sides.”

Last spring, Pappalardi infused himself into the program and spent a lot of time with the team throughout. The returning players already have a working relationship with their athletic director turned coach.

“It shows who he is as a person and how much he cares about our team,” Rittmaster said. “Last year he kind of really put himself into our team and wanted to see how we worked as a team. He said he really connected with us at the beginning and wanted to see us through. He has built a strong relationship with the returners. Knowing that and that he feels comfortable with us, it’s really cool to have someone like that be able to give so much of his time to us.”

That was strengthened during the brief hiring process late last month and now during workouts.

“It was nice we were allowed to be part of the process because all of us were so nervous, especially the people who have been on the team for a long period of time,” Greenwald said. “We want our season to be amazing and if it’s this last minute it changed our whole preseason and workout situation.”

The workouts sent a clear message that Pappalardi isn’t just any athletic director or coach.

“One thing we all really loved today was today during warm-ups Ray actually led us,” Steckel said. “He was doing it with us. He was breaking a sweat just like all of us were. He was honestly in better shape than half the girls there.”

Steckel appreciated that every stretch or drill had an explanation to go with it, giving purpose to every part of the workout. “That symbolized a greater aspect of his coaching skills,” she said.

The players like to set the tone early in preseason. Without a coach they worried the outlook would be negative, which could carry into the season.

“As soon as the season started yesterday those concerns vanished instantly,” Steckel said. “These past two days of tryouts the vibes and the attitudes have been significantly more positive and a lot better. Everyone agrees after tryouts we were all talking about how different it is and how excited everyone is to be there and how motivated we are, really hopeful for a really great season.”

Steckel, who is a three-sport captain, said with the uncertainty the pressure was actually on the team to be prepared, motivated and excited for the season.

“Maybe we thought a new coach wouldn’t be able to do that for us,” she said. “We went into it knowing a lot of the burden fell on us. That’s the main reason we’ve all been happy and positive.”

In the end, the girls just want to play lacrosse. There is now a strong support system in place and the behind-the-scenes details aren’t something they feel the need to be burdened with.

“The fundamentals and the organization of who is coaching us, how all of that is going work, we’re not sure about that, but at the end of the day lacrosse is a sport we all love to play and if we just come to practice and every game prepared, excited and motivated, then we’re going to have a good time regardless of what’s going on,” Steckel said.

Scarsdale was 11-7 and won the league title last spring behind a trio of All-Section seniors, Erin Nicholas, Emma Coleman and Jilly Mehlman. The team returns honorable mention junior Lizey Mehlman and All-League Greenwald.

In addition to continuing with girls lacrosse, Pappalardi will begin searches for field hockey, boys basketball and ice hockey coaches next week. He also expects to hear soon from the soon-to-be-retired middle school PE teacher Barney Foltman, who coaches three varsity sports, as to what he plans to continue next school year.

Until next week comes, Pappalardi is focusing on his many duties involving physical education, health and athletics, which now includes head varsity girls lacrosse coach.

“Today is Day 2 and after 4 o’clock interacting with the kids, getting feedback from them, coaching and being outside with those girls has been the best part of my day,” Pappalardi said.

Theirs, too.


Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of The Scarsdale Inquirer. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

 

April 6, 2018