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Legislation Could Protect Coaches from Vindictive Parents

30 Oct, 2019

By: Michael Popke

High school coaches in New Jersey, who are appointed by local school boards on a year-by-year basis might soon find themselves with a little more job security.

A pair of state lawmakers — Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic) and Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) — have introduced legislation that would require varsity head coaches to receive three-year contracts and assistant coaches two-year contracts.

“I think it’s a major protection for coaches when it comes to being unjustly fired,” Wimberly, who is head football coach at Hackensack High School, said in a statement obtained by The Press of Atlantic City. “In many cases, guys are being fired because they didn’t play a school board member’s child, or a [student-athlete] didn’t play a position they wanted to play, so you have parents go to the school board and make an issue out of it.”

Steve Fortis, athletic director of Absegami High School in Galloway, N.J., is not convinced legislation would eliminate that problem.

“If the goal [of the bills] is to prevent parents from complaining, it’s not going to help much,” he told the paper. “You can give coaches lifetime contracts, and it won’t stop it.”

Even coaches have mixed emotions regarding the proposals.

“I guess it gives coaches some job security, but for how long? Whether it’s one year or three years, no coach deserves to lose his or her job if they are doing it right,” John Bruno, longtime boys’ basketball and softball coach at Ocean City High School, told The Press of Atlantic City.

Bruno was not reappointed back in the late 1990s after one school board member expressed concern about the direction in which the basketball program was heading; Bruno was reinstated after former players and fellow coaches came to his defense, and he led the school’s softball team to the 2019 South Jersey Group III championship.

“I despise when someone tells a high school coach that they want to go in a different direction,” Bruno added. “What does that mean? What direction do you want to go? Unless they do something egregious, there’s no reason to let a coach go. I think they should be able to leave under their own terms.”

Another New Jersey high school coach claims increased television coverage of high school sports has made it tougher for coaches to do their jobs and placed added pressure on coaches.

“Putting high school games on TV is the worst thing that could have happened, because it gives parents false hope,” Frank Riggitano, football coach at Middle Township High School in Cape May Court House, N.J., (and the school’s former principal), told The Press of Atlantic City. “We’ve been lucky enough to see some of our kids go on to play college football, but for 90 percent of them, their careers are ending after high school. It’s our job as coaches to make sure they get the most out of their high school careers.”

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