FCIAC

Commentary: Intrusive Sports Parents By Running Out Good Coaches May Soon Get To Prove Their Expertise

Parental interference in high school sports is not a new phenomenon. It has been a decades-old problem, caused by a very small percentage of perceived experts who feel weekends coaching youth programs or watching ESPN gives them a level of experience that the trained professionals — and by extension school administrators — working with their kids lack.

These charlatans also cause the vast majority of supportive parents to unfairly be painted by the same brush.

It is an ongoing issue that, like waves in the ocean, sinks to the background and then crests for certain periods. This is one of them. The coaches, whose time — much of it not mandated — often measures to cents per hour, occasionally need the public to be reminded of their value.

As someone who has written often on the subject — seemingly like some medical procedures about every five years — I very humbly volunteer.

Over the past year, a number of qualified and exemplary coaches have left jobs or sadly retired because the joy of working with kids is no longer worth having to endure being second-guessed by parents about everything from strategy to playing time. More instances than not there is a personal agenda.

Some prime jobs in a number of sports have opened up over the past year, and administrators too often have had a limited number of candidates apply. The verbiage in the press releases mask the reality that those departing are often sprinting from the headaches that must feel like perpetual migraines.

The most egregious example came three months ago, when Bruce Cunningham “stepped down” as Wilton’s football coach. Cunningham led the Warriors to a 6-4 record last season and was 13-7 over one of the program’s best recent two-year runs. That apparently was not good enough for a few football parents — what took place behind the scenes was disgraceful — who apparently feel a place on the pedestal with neighbors Darien and New Canaan is a realistic goal. If so, right now that is a mirage.

Over the past year, a number of qualified and exemplary coaches have left jobs or sadly retired because the joy of working with kids is no longer worth having to endure being second-guessed by parents about everything from strategy to playing time. More instances than not there is a personal agenda.

Maybe a 1-9 mark, if that victory ended the drought against Ridgefield, would have been sufficient.

Cunningham, notable for taking the high road, only ran an exemplary program, was respected by his players and peers in the FCIAC, and had a reputation for producing teams comprised of tough kids that never underachieved.

Cunningham was scooped up as an assistant at Greenwich, his hometown, before the ink on his resignation had dried. If Cardinals coach John Marinelli had not hired him so quickly he might have been beaten out by his father Lou at New Canaan.

The Warriors last month hired E.J. DiNunzio, who was an assistant on the school’s freshman team last year after being away from the sport for 20 years.

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Point of emphasis: this is in no way an indictment of DiNunzio, an unknown who impressed Wilton athletic director Chris McDougal in a number of areas. Anyone rendering a finding on DiNunzio — I have heard some — does so unfairly because there is not yet a body of work for a fair assessment. He has — and deserves — a clean slate.

The indictment is that a plum job was considered kryptonite locally by those familiar with the dynamics in Wilton. Two state head coaches told me they normally would have applied for what they once considered a stepping stone position but opted not to because of the way Cunningham was treated.

Good coaches are no different than good teachers in terms of impact, the only difference is instead of classrooms there are fields, rinks, courts and tracks. They provide lasting impacts that stretch way beyond producing accomplished athletes.

This was the tip of the iceberg in Wilton because football draws the most interest, but coaches in a number of sports have either endured continual abuse or taken the first train out of town. I have covered the FCIAC for 35 years and cannot recall a town ever weighed down by a worse reputation than Wilton currently has. Most coaches in the area would never consider submitting an application there.

After the coaches, the people I feel sorriest for is the very vast majority of Wilton parents who offer different forms of support the right way. It is a vibrant sports town with competitive teams in almost every sport. But too often Wilton athletics have ended up getting media attention for all the wrong reasons and the maelstrom has afflicted the entire community. Guilt by association is an unfair verdict.

But this problem is by no means limited to Wilton, which because of the negative publicity might seem worse than other towns. It is happening throughout the FCIAC — all over the country — and has reached epidemic proportions. I have familiarity with issues at a number of local schools in a wide variety of sports. Coaches are being forced to weigh the scales between their love of working with kids and disdain for the parents. Right now those scales are tilting in the wrong direction.

Good coaches are no different than good teachers in terms of positive influence, the only difference is instead of classrooms there are fields, rinks, courts and tracks. They provide lasting impacts that stretch way beyond producing accomplished athletes.

Unfortunately there is a growing number of parents blinded by self-interest. They would never go into someone else’s place of work to interfere, but for some reason high school coaches are fair game.

These parents think they have superior expertise.

And unlike other jobs, they may soon get the chance to prove it, because we are trending to a time when parents may soon be the lone applicants for coaching vacancies.