HILLSBOROUGH: Softball coach wins diamond job back

Rosenblum successfully presents his case to school board

By Gene Robbins, Managing Editor
   Coach Rich Rosenblum has won back his job as girls’ softball coach at the Hillsborough Middle School.
   Mr. Rosenblum waived his privacy right and presented his case publicly Monday night to the Board of Education, which has had appointment of a different person as coach on its agenda for the last two months.
   After hearing from the coach and about five parents, the board voted, 5-2 with one abstention, to reinstate Mr. Rosenblum. The motion needed five of the potential nine votes.
   ”I came here today to vote against you,” said board member Dana Bogusewski, “but after listening to you, parents and the players I feel how your heart hurts. How can I deny the town somebody it seems to love? It’s so hard to find one person who does something so amazing for our town.”
   His teaching job of 13 years wasn’t in jeopardy, only the extracurricular post he has held for nine years.
   After the vote, Mr. Rosenblum accepted hugs and handshakes with evident emotion.
   Mr. Rosenblum was not recommended by Middle School Principal Joseph Trybulski or Assistant Athletic Director Patrick Scarpello. Superintendent Jorden Schiff reviewed their reasons, citing deficiencies in staff and practice organization, and failures in enhancing and promoting athletics and “demonstrating integrity.”
   He also said the report said Mr. Rosenblum was insubordinate, unprofessional and not truthful with his supervisor.
   While he didn’t doubt the positive impact on players, said Dr. Schiff, “we need coaches who can inspire AND work well with administration.”
   Five of the 14 categories in the recommendation were rated less than satisfactory, Dr. Schiff said.
   Mr. Rosenblum told the board he was “confused” the sequence of criticisms over many months, but said he felt compelled to defend himself because his coaching policies, character and integrity were being questioned.
   He described problems he had had in his relationship with Mr. Scarpello. Mr. Rosenblum said Mr. Scarpello failed to hold a pre-season meeting with coaches, as has been past practice, to lay out expectations, polices and procedures.
   Two parents spoke to the allegation that Mr. Rosenblum left his players unsupervised as they waited for rides home. Both parents said they had never seen Mr. Rosenblum leave girls unattended.
   Parent Juan Prieto said he felt the appraisal system was strange, “almost as if someone was new to the system or abusing his or her authority.”
   Mr. Rosenblum said he was chastised for using emails, instead of written notes, to communicate with parents. At one point, Mr. Scarpello told the coach he shouldn’t use the restroom during practice, even though the assistant coach was with the team, Mr. Rosenblum said.
   The coach had copies of administrators’ emails saying, at different times, that all issues had been resolved, and even one calling him “one of the most beloved coaches on my staff.”
   The coach referred to support from parents and alumnae who have gone to play at college. Naval Academy graduate Margaret Gilroy spoke at his annual postseason team banquet, he said.
   ”Something else is driving the matter,” he said. “I would just like to know what it is.”
   Parent Jorge Cofino, himself a coach and former athlete, called Mr. Rosenblum “one of the most inspiring coaches I’ve come across.” He said, “I firmly believe there’s more afoot here.”
   Parent Al Saverino said he hoped the board saw how parents’ attendance and letters showed how important the issue was to them. To get what he said were “six sentences” of explanation from the administration was “borderline insulting.”
      About 80 supporters attended the meeting.
    Board member Lorraine Soisson made the motion to reinstate, and Deena Centofanti seconded it. Ms. Soisson, Ms. Bogusewski, Jennifer Haley, Judith Haas and Thuy Anh Le voted yes. Board President Thomas Kinst and Christopher Pulsifer vote no, and Ms. Centofanti abstained.
   Mr. Pulsifer said that the board’s job was not to choose a coach, but to determine if due process and proper procedures were followed. It’s up to the superintendent to hire, he said, and if there was no issue with the process, it should uphold the superintendent.
   Ms. Le said she thought there was miscommunication in the process. If steps were intended to take place, it was not clear to the principals, she said.
   Ms. Haas said she was concerned about procedure in which the board couldn’t ask questions, only hear both reports from both sides.
   She said she was left to make assumptions about the other eight years as a coach and 13 years as a teacher. The process left a lot to be desired, she said.
   Parents and former players have been at the last two or three board meetings expressing support for Mr. Rosenblum, who attended the Nov. 18 meeting, but did not speak publicly. There have been at least 10 letters to the board on the issue. ’In July, after the team had been given a congratulatory proclamation for winning its league at the end of the school year, Mr. Rosenblum told the team he was not being recommended for rehire based on his most recent job review by Mr. Scarpello.
   In an email Tuesday, Mr. Rosenblum thanked supporters.
   ”I have spent the entire day full of many emotions,” he wrote. “I cannot thank you all enough for what you’ve done for me. I am truly overwhelmed by your kind words and continued support week after week. I couldn’t have asked for a better extended family than all of you.
   ”The best way I know to show you my gratitude is to continue to give 100 percent as I coach this next group of girls and make the 2014 softball season one that was worth fighting for,” he said.