For just the second time in the last two decades, a varsity coach at one of the four high schools in our small community has been fired during the season.
Ayer-Shirley decided to part ways with Dan Civitarese April 5, after 15-plus years of service. Such an event is so rare that the last time it happened, I was just entering Ayer High as a student. Now, 19 years later, it has happened again and the main question on many people's minds is why?
That was the question I intended to get answered as I slowly put together the pieces of this puzzle. The goal of any journalist is to write a story that represents both sides of the story. But I quickly found out that getting both sides was not going to be easy. When I reached out to Superintendent Carl Mock, Principal Brian Haas and Athletic Director Justin Lamoreaux, I was met with the following statement: "It is the policy of this district not to discuss personnel matters with the public and through the media."
I was able to get confirmation on the school's stance on the firing, courtesy of the termination letter provided by Civitarese, which is broken down later in this column.
What I will make clear is this: I cannot make an educated statement on whether Civitarese did or did not deserve to be fired. I do not have enough facts at my disposal to take a stance.
What I can present is a case for how poorly it appears the higher-ups at Ayer-Shirley handled the matter.
As far as facts go, this is the timeline:
On April 4, an event occurred at an Ayer-Shirley softball practice that led to a complaint filed against Civitarese.
On April 5, Ayer-Shirley athletic director Justin Lamoreaux met with Civitarese and informed him that his services as head coach were no longer needed.
On April 10, a meeting occured between Civitarese, assistant coach Mitch Magnette, Lamoreaux, Haas and Civitarese's attorney.
On April 12, a letter was sent from Haas to Civitarese, with Lamoreaux and Ayer-Shirley Superintendent Carl Mock sent copies stating that Civitarese was fired effective immediately.
On April 18, an email was sent from Haas to Civitarese, with Lamoreaux copied, discussing the letter and reconfirming that Civitarese was fired.
On April 26, Civitarese had a meeting with Mock to discuss the firing and appeal the decision.On April 30, Civitarese was made aware by Mock that the firing had been upheld.
Why was a meeting not held BEFORE the firing? In a professional work environment, if a complaint is filed against you, you are given the right to defend yourself before action is taken. In this case, an event occurred on a Thursday night and within 18 hours, Civitarese was fired.
For his part, Civitarese is confused. "I had my meeting with Mr. Mock and he backed the school's decision to fire me," said Civitarese. "The real reason why is still very vague to me and has never been given."
In the letter sent to Civitarese by Haas, with Lamoreaux and Mock sent copies, the description of the reason for the firing was listed as: "At this time, it is clear that your coaching style is not a match for our current varsity softball program."
Civitarese can be gruff and demanding, but I would say that has been true for his 15-plus years as coach. So I wonder how this suddenly became an issue a week into the 2013 season.
Continuing in the letter, Haas wrote: "This issue has been raised in the past and continues to be brought to my attention."
Also noted by Haas: "I believe that the girls need to feel supported, enjoy (at least most of the time) playing and participating on the team and the team needs to remain viable. Currently, all three are in jeopardy."
Isn't this a reflection on the school more than anyone? If you believe that you have a troublesome employee that has caused, in your opinion, your softball program to be on the verge of falling apart, why would you have him continue to coach for well over a decade? Just about every coach that I know is brought back on one-year contracts, including Civitarese.
Why was this "problem" raised before? If the issue was in fact ongoing, it should not have come as a shock to the coach now.
The firing of Civitarese comes during a rough run for Ayer-Shirley athletics. In 2011, the football team was forced to forfeit a game due to an event on a bus ride home. This past winter the girls' varsity basketball coach was suspended. Now they have terminated the varsity softball coach.
Was Civitarese used as an example to demonstrate that the administration is trying to take control of the problems that have plagued their athletic department for the last 18 months? Was this the way for the administration to remove one of the last varsity coaches that was not an employee of the school?
Doesn't this decision open up a Pandora's Box? What happens next year if a group of varsity athletes come to the athletic director, principal or any school administrator and says they refuse to play for a coach? Fire the coach without a fair hearing? Where's the respect in that? What's the lesson for the students?
And what kind of message does this send to anyone who may consider taking a coaching position at Ayer-Shirley? Coaches are an endangered species as it is with the constant issues they have to deal with. Why would any coach want to take a job where he or she has no idea if the school supports him? Where they know that one complaint could get them fired with no questions asked?
While they may or may not have come to the right decision, the path administrators took left much to be desired. And it does not reflect well upon Ayer-Shirley.