Aug 17, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Three decades of work building one of the state’s top high school softball programs has come to a sudden end for Cicero-North Syracuse coach Kerry Bennett.
Just two months after leading the Northstars to another state Class AA final, Bennett was let go by the school district. He said the decision had to do with circumstances surrounding C-NS’s latest state final four appearance in Queensbury.
On June 9, the Northstars beat Valley Central 2-1 in the state semifinal round. Before playing Clarence in the championship game, one of C-NS’s players, senior Brittany Paul, left to attend the school’s senior ball. C-NS went on to lose the title game to Clarence 3-1.
Bennett said that, though Paul did leave early, other players stayed for the championship game and then attended that same senior ball.
A month later, at the July 9 meeting of the North Syracuse Board of Education, Paul and her father, Jeff, spoke to the board. Jeff Paul described a series of alleged incidents where both students and parents subjected her daughter to harassment, including cyber-bullying, car vandalism and threatening letters and messages left on her telephone.
Because of that, said Jeff Paul, her family did not attend the team’s season-ending banquet, where he said posters and DVD’s were handed out to her teammates that did not include Brittany in the photos. He also described a letter sent to the coaching staff at Lafayette University, where Paul will be attending college this fall.
“This is not an issue of agreeing or disagreeing with Brittany’s decision to attend the (senior) ball,” said Paul to the board. “This is about the repercussions that followed her decision.”
Brittany Paul, who graduated near the top of her class at C-NS and was a part of two state Class AA championship basketball teams, also spoke to the school board at that July 9 meeting. She said the board had two choices – to take action against the coaching staff and other individuals, or not to take action.
“You can hope that this was just an isolated incident and this will never happen again,” she said. “(Then) we will be faced with the same people, in the same positions, with the same attitudes. What really has changed?”
The second choice, said Brittany Paul, “would be to take action to assure that this doesn’t continue”, even, she added, if it meant some backlash within the community.
“Wins and championships are important,” she concluded. “But they should not come at the expense of the district’s greatest asset – its students.”
In 30 years coaching at C-NS (roughly the entire span of time since the Cicero and North Syracuse high schools merged), Bennett won more than 600 games, during which time he also served as Section III softball chairman.
The Northstars won a state championship in 1989, and three more followed in 1994, 1999 and 2006, the last of them claimed at C-NS’s home complex at Gillette Road Middle School. C-NS has also advanced to the state finals each of the last three years.
Dozens of players went from C-NS softball to the college ranks, including Morgan Nandin, who is at Syracuse University. Star pitcher Sydney O’Hara, who is to be a senior this year, has already made a verbal commitment to SU for 2013.
This is just the latest bit of coaching turmoil to hit C-NS. Earlier this year, a petition drive to the district’s board of education sought the ouster of varsity football head coach Steve Ellis after back-to-back 1-7 seasons in 2010 and ’11, but the school board refused to make a change.
Due to a medical condition, Ellis is not coaching this fall, and Jack McAndrew, a long-time coach for several different sports at C-NS, has taken over the head coaching job an interim basis for the 2012 season.