WAYNE, NJ – For the third Board of Education (BOE) meeting in a row, supporters of embattled Wayne Valley boys soccer coach Sam Roca urged the BOE to keep him as the head coach.
Two weeks ago, a much larger group showed up and players, parents, fellow coaches and team managers came to the podium to tell the Board members why Roca should stay.
It was the January 23 BOE meeting where the subject first came to light. See Story.
At the end of the February 6 meeting, Wayne Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Toback made a statement giving three points on the subject. “Coach Roca remains the Coach until June 30,” he said. “Coaches are hired for a one-year period.”
Toback’s second point was that it would be inappropriate for the BOE to commit to any coach for a fall sport because the district won’t be making a decision on who will be the soccer coach until June.
Toback’s third point was: “This is really a building-level issue. As far as what happened and any other comments regarding the coach, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further.”
Last night, only one parent, Rachel Anevski was on hand to support Roca. She read a prepared statement that basically repeated the idea that Roca was fired for not giving in to senior parent’s demands that their children start and play. She said: "I ask you to think about what we are reinforcing when we disregard people/coaches who make a concerted effort to prepare our children for the life ahead of them, and not only for the short term instant gratification of playing in a high school soccer game."
"You are the educators," Anevski told the BOE. "You have the power to decide what lesson gets taught here."
After the meeting, Toback told TAPinto Wayne that Roca would not be asked back as coach, which was the first official confirmation that the school district has shared with the public on the matter.
TAPinto Wayne has reached out to Wayne Valley Athletic Director Dave Drozjock twice, but did not get a reply either time. Toback explained that this was to protect Roca’s privacy.
Ryan Gilchrist, the Wayne Valley Boys Soccer team manager for the last two years and JV manager the year before gave an impassioned speech at the previous BOE meeting and TAPinto Wayne was able to speak to him last week.
Gilchrist was asked why he felt Roca was fired: “No specifics were ever shared, but word got around that parents had submitted complaints to the Athletic Director,” said Gilchrist. “It’s worth noting that there were only a few families that complained versus the large number of players and parents that continue to support Coach Roca.”
Staci Lupo, the President of the Wayne Valley Soccer Booster Club for the last two years and mother of Senior goalkeeper Nick Lupo, had spoken at the January 23 BOE meeting saying that Roca had bullied, humiliated, degraded and treated players unfairly, and that she wanted the BOE to review the documents she submitted.
TAPinto Wayne received only one document submitted by Lupo in response to an Open Records Act request to the BOE. It was an impassioned letter that questioned why parents were supporting Roca and questioning the Athletic Director's decison. She wrote: "His [Roca] take no accountability, head games and bullying attitude towards players has left many athletes lost, and quite frankly, broken after the last several seasons." Lupo went on to write that these incidents were documented and submitted to Drozjock and Roca.
Gilchrist was eager to refute the remarks Lupo made at the original BOE meeting: “Those allegations were appalling to me and the other players in attendance at that meeting,” said Gilchrist.
“Never once, did I ever hear Coach Roca belittle, degrade or humiliate any player on our team.” Said Gilchrist in no uncertain terms. “On the contrary, he always made it a point to tell us that he is there for us any time we need him and will continue to support us even after we finish the program, and no matter when we need him.”
Five former Wayne Valley Soccer Players who have graduated and moved on to college recently submitted Letters to TAPinto Wayne. Each also talk of Roca’s positive influence on their lives.
Gilcrhist went on: “I do find it interesting that the parent in question [Lupo] made a point of saying that Coach Roca mistreated her son over the past four years when her son only played varsity this past year and filled in after an injury last season. And if the treatment of her son was so terrible, why was she so complimentary in her speech to Coach Roca and his coaching skills during our soccer awards dinner in December?”
Among those who came to the podium at the February 6 meeting to plead with the BOE were Wayne resident and Head Coach of the Clifton High School Boys Soccer Coach, Stan Lembryk, who coached Roca years before at the Red Bull Academy and whose son played for Roca at Wayne Valley. “I’m not sure why he would not be re-hired. It’s actually a little disturbing to me as a parent in this community,” said Lembryk after praising Roca and talking about his long experience with the coach.
Wayne resident and Head Coach of the Division One soccer program at NJIT, Fernando Barbota recruited Roca out of Wayne Valley High School and his son currently plays for Roca. Barbota also gave several examples of how Roca was an excellent coach. “I think he is a fantastic individual. I couldn’t imagine why he wouldn’t be re-appointed,” he said.
Senior player Justin Kennedy felt that he and his twin brother were partially to blame for Roca’s dismissal. They were not named starters for one game this past season and walked off the field in anger, leaving the field and their team.
“We both take full responsibility for our actions and we feel it shouldn’t be placed on Coach Roca,” he said. Their younger brother, Jayden also plays varsity and Kennedy added: “I feel as if Coach Roca serves as the best and undisputed possible person to lead my brother and the future of the boys varsity soccer program to success.”
Several players, and parents spoke, but Tiffany Rubis, mother of freshman player Jake Rubis was emotional as she told the BOE about angry parents of seniors who constantly made the season difficult.
“I believe the parents had a lot to do with the decision,” she said. “My son is a freshman and he made it on the varsity team, and I’ve never had such anxiety going to a soccer game in all the years that my son has played soccer.”
“I had to sit on the opposing team’s bench because the parents would yell about my son starting: ‘He’s not even good. Why is he there?’” said Rubis with obvious emotion.
“It was the most awful year I’ve ever experienced because of those parents. So, I think it was very unjustly done that he [Roca] was fired,” she said.
TAPinto Wayne reached out to find parents who would provide a different perspective on Roca, but those we found either didn’t reply or refused to comment.