At last week’s well-attended Marlboro School Board meeting, every speaker, except one, defended Varsity Football Coach Rich Ward, who was recently informed that he would not be rehired to his position this fall. The overwhelming response from the public was for the School Board to reinstate Ward to his position in Marlboro.
The school board fired Ward because of a series of harsh texts between him and a mother of a football player on whether her son would be attending the annual football dinner in December. After being called a “jerk” in a text Ward’s response was, “Ma’am, you can go to hell and kiss my a**.” He later apologized for his remarks, which he admitted were inappropriate. The public told the school board that this momentary transgression should not be cause to remove him nor denigrate the positive influences that he has had upon his players for the past eight years.
This latest dust up comes after a 2014 lawsuit that was filed by several players against Coach Ward, former Superintendent Ray Castellani and the school district in U.S. District Court. At that time Ward was alleged to have verbally and physically abused some of his football players while the former Superintendent knew about it and failed to take any action to stop it. Though a judge later dismissed the lawsuit, the school board warned Ward that any inappropriate conduct moving forward would not be tolerated.
During public input at last week’s board meeting, the father of Noah Fedora said his son’s diagnosis of epilepsy caused him to quit playing football. He later joined the track team, which given his medical condition, is a far safer sport for him. On numerous occasions Ward pressured his son to rejoin the football team. When Noah backed out of a meeting with the team’s leader out of concern for his health, Fedora said Ward called his son, “a piece of garbage for not coming to the meeting and he wouldn’t want anyone like that on his team anyway.” Noah’s father said this had a devastating effect upon his son, who had once looked up to Ward.
“He completely crushed his emotional state with his disrespectful and inappropriate words,” the father said. “He attempted to put my son’s life at risk and pressured him into making unsafe decisions so that his team may be winners again…As a coach I am appalled that someone would put the safety and life of a child at risk to win a game. I wish Coach Ward was as worried about my son’s safety as he was about his legacy as a coach.”
Varsity Football Captain Matthew Jackson fully supports Coach Ward, saying that he always emphasizes respect for teachers, coaches and his fellow teammates and instills in them that hard work is needed to achieve success on and off the field.
“In today’s world there are so many vices and issues teenagers face daily. Coach Ward arranged for Orange County District Attorney Dave Hoovler to speak to the team about the use of drugs and alcohol. An epidemic in many areas of our region. Again Coach Ward reaching beyond the x’s and o’s of football,” Jackson said.
Quarterback and fellow Captain, Sam Mongelli said Ward “always makes sure our team is prepared for every game and encourages us to be the best for the team. Go fast, go hard, finish and win the day, Coach Ward reminds his players of this every day. Lessons Coach Ward teaches his athletes go beyond football, and they say a coach will impact more young people in a year than the average person does in a lifetime.”
Dr. Anthony Pascale believes Ward brings to his job a “certain mentality, a certain drive and fortitude and intensity” that helps his young players become winners on the field.
In acknowledging the recent incident that led to Ward’s firing, Pascale urged the school board “in the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation to give Coach Ward the opportunity to continue as Varsity football coach in Marlboro. I am confident that you have the knowledge to set standards and conditions for the coach to allow his reappointment to happen.”
Kim McKeon said that she is the individual who had the recent text messaging conflict with Coach Ward concerning her son who plays on the Varsity team.
“I don’t know who reported it, I don’t know why they reported it…but my problem is that I’m more disappointed in the Board of Education, all of the Administration [and] the Athletic Department that when all this was brought out, not one person in this entire school district contacted me and everybody knew that it [text] was to me,” she said. “Exactly how the text was said, I called him out on it and anybody here that knows me knows that is who I am; knows that I’m in his face for what he’s replied back. So how dare a board go on what somebody submitted and what text when nobody knows what conversation we had before, after or in-between then. These children should not be in jeopardy [and] sacrifice and lose a coach that they love because of something that we said to each other.”
When Ward stepped up to the microphone to address the school board he was greeted by a standing ovation from the public. He thanked the administration and the school board for the opportunity to make a few comments.
“I am going to stand here and be humbled and I just want to say thank you. I love each and every one of you. I have made mistakes [and] I will continue to make mistakes because I am a human being and I have a passion for what I do but I’ll do my best to correct anything that you need me to correct,” he said. “With that being said I don’t hide, I’m not a hider. I went on radio shows [and] I just spoke the truth. I said I was sorry. I made a mistake and it was in the heat of the moment.”
Ward said he was willing to go into the executive session with the Board of Education and the Administration to answer any of their questions.
“I give you that opportunity to do so but I stand here in awe of the people who are behind me, I just love each and every one of you.”
Richard Gerentine said Ward has publicly admitted and apologized for his mistake and that the school board has a very difficult task ahead in deciding the coach’s fate.
“We are all here not to criticize anybody but because there is an issue that is very important to this community,” he said. “The bottom line is you have to do what’s best for all of the people in this room right here and the whole school district and hopefully you would reconsider.”
The Board did not make a decision last week concerning Ward but have taken all of the comments and submitted letters under advisement and expect to make a statement at a future board meeting.
By Mark Reynolds