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Abrupt Coach Departures Raise Concerns About Scarsdale Athletic Department

Murphy2The departure of Scarsdale's Boys Varsity Basketball coach Bill Murphy has caused a ripple effect throughout the School community. In addition to Murphy, Head Lacrosse and Assistant Field Hockey Coach Genette Zhongetti has been let go from her position, just a month before preseason of Lacrosse, and head Field Hockey Coach Sharon Rosenthal just resigned as of today. The recent coaching turmoil leaves Scarsdale needing to fill 3 head coach positions, and begs the question: what's going on in the athletic department?

In an email sent to players and parents on Wednesday, January 31st before the basketball team's game at New Rochelle, Scarsdale Athletic Director Ray Pappalardi said that Murphy would not be attending the game. The Raiders lost 51-49, dropping to a record of 10-7 for the season. Following a meeting with Pappalardi on February 2nd, Coach Murphy, who was just four regular season games from the end of his third year with the program, was abruptly let go from his position. Last season, Coach Murphy was named Section 1 Coach of the Year, and led the team to a stunning overtime loss against Mount Vernon in the Section finals.

Pappalardi met with the team on Friday, unable to disclose most information. The following Murphy3days gave way to a host of questions and overall confusion, even from within the team. Saturday practice was cancelled. The Athletic Department returned the next day with news that Assistant Coach Justin Washington would fill the position of interim head coach. There are conflicting reports on almost every detail of this story: Murphy was either fired or forced to resign, although it is unclear if he ever signed any formal paperwork. The incident allegedly began as a result of complaints from one or two parents about Murphy's conduct on the team's two annual trips to Miami. According to comments by Murphy, he is under the impression that a parent, whose senior child was suspended for inappropriate actions toward an assistant coach in a game earlier this season, wanted him out of the coaching position. The parent cited both trips, when Murphy had been drinking in front of the players and apparently drove them in a van (this information is unclear as well), as concerns about his professionalism and lack of regard for player safety.

On Saturday afternoon, Murphy reached out to the community via email. He emphasized the importance of transparency in the situation and arranged a forum at Willow Ridge Country Club on Monday, February 5th at 7:30 to bring closure and to clarify any unanswered questions. During the forum, the aforementioned parent arrived with a lawyer in order to prevent any defamation of character. Murphy was given the opportunity to tell his side of the story and address larger concerns he had about the nature of the conflict. He recognized parental power and influence over the administration as a central problem, admitted to drinking one social beer while on the trip, and emphasized that he was not drunk at any instance. According to a story in the Scarsdale Inquirer, Murphy said, "I had a beer on this trip, yeah ... It's what you do as a coach. Not everybody, but you're in Miami, you have a game, you play hard; yeah, you have a beer."

A number of players and parents spoke at the forum, expressing their support for Coach Murphy and their discontent with the manner in which the process was handled. A parent-organized committee has been formed to exonerate Murphy's name and address the growing issue of how the school handles parent involvement in athletics decisions.

The Scarsdale Board of Education also met on Monday night. Assistant Superintendent Andrew Patrick addressed the matter, saying, "We have a recommendation from the administration to terminate boys' varsity basketball coach Mr. Billy Murphy. The board met with the administration to discuss this matter. Clearly severing a coach-athlete relationship in the middle of a season is a very serious step to take. We do not make this recommendation lightly. We do not think this step should be used to draw any broader conclusions about our coaching staff or program as a whole. Rather this decision is about the conduct of one individual and the safety and well being of all of our student athletes."

Even without Murphy the team still had a game to play against White Plains on Tuesday night (2/6). Before the game, Athletic Director Ray Pappalardi and Principal Ken Bonamo met with players and parents, and "several concerns were raised," according to an email sent by Pappalardi to the parents of the JV and Freshman Boy's teams. The administration addressed a number of issues in the email, including the safety of student athletes on the court, the lack of communication from the district (which has allowed others to fill the void), the turnover of coaches creating an unattractive environment for good coaches and ineffective methods for communicating in emergency situations. The administration also consulted with the team whose members expressed the desire for a head coach who "knows them well and who would not deviate from the current system," as they are just a week away from playoffs. This is how the decision was made to choose assistant Coach Justin Washington as the head coach. Pappalardi ended the email by noting, "although I regret the disruption caused for our student athletes and their families, I know we have acted in the best interests of our students."

Tuesday's game against White Plains celebrated the seniors in their annual Senior Game, Washingtonan interesting close to a dramatic weekend for the Boys Varsity team. The team started off slow, down 20-29 against a team that they had beaten earlier this season. However, they picked it up in the second half and ended up defeating White Plains 65-60, giving Washington his first win as head coach.

Hearing the roar of the packed student section midway through the second half, it would be difficult for an outsider to recognize that anything had gone wrong at all. Still, the unrest sparked by Murphy's removal is far from being quelled. This incident opened up a chasm of deeper issues within the athletic department, including the role of parents in the decision making process for Varsity teams. The Boys team continues its season Thursday February 8 at Mount Vernon and Saturday February 10 at home for the Maroon and White tournament.

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