WAYNE, NJ – At the last Wayne Board of Education meeting, two parents of Wayne Valley High School (WV) men’s soccer players came to the podium during the public comments portion and asked the BOE to re-investigate the decision made to not renew the contract for WV men’s head soccer coach Sam Roca. One parent provided a counter-argument.

Brian Cannici is a Wayne resident, a father to a WV soccer player and the Principal of the Crescent Elementary School in Waldwick, NJ. He understands the role of the Board of Education in personnel matters.  The Wayne BOE does not make personnel decisions for the school district but can investigate what they may consider wrongful firings.

Cannici hoped that his speech laid out an argument to the Board to consider an investigation.

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“I come here tonight in support of our head soccer coach, Mr. Sam Roca, who was recently asked to resign from his post,” said Cannici after introducing himself. “I’m here to present you with a perspective of those parents and kids who support Coach Roca, since, it seems, the opposite perspective has already been presented, entertained and endorsed.”

Cannici went on to describe a group of angry parents of senior soccer players who were not getting playing time. “Unfortunately, this past soccer season was not as enjoyable as it should have been, because of the behavior of several senior parents,” he said to the members of the BOE and then described an ongoing negative atmosphere at every game where parents shouted insults, unfair criticisms and profanity from the stands.

“The last I checked, varsity sports are competitive,” he continued. “Players have to earn their spots on their team and their playing time. It is not a recreational league where everybody plays equally.”

He felt that an “ongoing correspondence” between WV Athletic Director Dave Drozjock and the parents unhappy with Roca led to the decision to dismiss the coach, and that the voices of parents who supported Roca were not being heard.

“If you allow Coach Roca to be relieved of his post, you are making a very bad mistake,” he said in a very serious tone. “And, you are setting a very dangerous precedent. If you allow a group of parents who encourage entitlement, misrepresent the facts and demonstrate poor behavior to influence your personnel decisions, none of your coaches are safe.”

His finished with: “Sam Roca is our coach, and we will continue to fight for him until he is back where he belongs, coaching our boys. I strongly and respectfully urge you to re-investigate and re-consider the decision that was made.”

Stewart Kennedy, a Wayne resident and father of three boys who played on the varsity soccer team this past season also spoke in support of Roca. "I've had my problems with Coach Roca," he said, admitting that it had to do with one of his senior son's not starting. But his talk ended with: "I suggest this Board reconsider bringing Coach Roca back."

One parent was there to provide the BOE with a different perspective.

Staci Lupo introduced herself as the Booster Club President for the WV soccer team for the past two years and involved with the club for the last six years. She has also been involved in the PTO since her son, Nick was very young. 

Her son was a senior goalie for the WV men's soccer team this year and had very limited playing time, but she said this was not the reason for her pushing for Roca’s dismissal.

“Our issues were not with playing time,” she told the members of the BOE. “I urge you to review all the documents given to Mr. Drozjock about the unfair treatment of those children, the humiliation of those children, the bullying of those children and the degrading of those children.”

She said she, Roca and Drozjock met where her grievances were laid out. “And, none of it had to do with playing time.”

“Wayne Valley sports is not just about winning,” she said in a counter-argument to one of Cannici’s points. “It’s about sportsmanship, comradery, teamwork and everyone working together for a cause.”

“I have a son who is going on to play at the collegiate level,” continued Lupo. “When I asked Coach Roca if I could have my son start one game, so that three college coaches who asked to come see him could see him play for the final decision on where he would be going to college, the answer was ‘no.’"

"What kind of coach tells his player, who has played for him for four years, ‘no.’ That is the type of coach that Coach Roca was to my son,” said Lupo

Lupo went on to lament the situation and say that what her son had experienced has been going on for years. She urged the BOE to look into the facts. “And, whether the facts side or side against, I think it’s important to see both sides and do what’s best in the interest of our children because our kids deserve more.”

There were fourteen soccer players from the team in attendance at the BOE meeting there in support of Roca.  TAPinto Wayne was able to speak to only one of them after the meeting. It was starting freshman Ferid Zaku.  When asked why he felt Roca was being dismissed Zaku replied: “I don’t think some parents really like him as a coach. In my opinion, he’s a great coach and I want him to come back.”

In the time since the meeting, Athletic Director Dave Drozjock did not reply to our attempt to contact him regarding the matter.

BOE President Cathy Kazan said it would be inappropriate to comment on personnel matters.

Lupo would not comment further on the matter, saying only that "It was best for the players to let the administration go through all the materials and testimonies submitted by parents and players from grades 9-12 and trust they see the facts and what is best for the Wayne Valley Boys Soccer Program." 

Roca refused an interview but sent in a written statement that did not talk about the controversy surrounding him. The full statement is at the end of this article.

Rachel Anevski, a parent of a freshman varsity player reached out to TAPinto Wayne to share her perspective.  She, too, believed the issue the parents had against Roca was all about playing time.

According to Anevski, if a player plays their first three years in the soccer program, they are automatically allotted a spot on the varsity team in their senior year. “Some of these seniors were not as talented as some of the younger players, so they didn’t start and had limited playing time,” she said.

Comparing the soccer team to the Wayne Valley champion Football team, Anevski said: “How many seniors had to sit the bench so that our varsity football program could win the championship?  That coach is getting Coach of the Year while our coach is getting fired.”

“I understand that these parents are frustrated that their senior sons did not play very much during their final year,” she said. “These parents are being true advocates for their sons, but this should not be the reason a talented and dedicated coach like Sam Roca should be let go.”

When Cannici and Anevski were asked if they ever saw, or if their sons ever saw, the bullying, humiliation, and degrading that Lupo stated was happening over the course of the season, they both replied no.

February 6 is the next BOE meeting and Anevski told TAPinto Wayne that they would be back to address the Board again.

Cannici had warned the Board during his talk that they would be back: “Members of the Board, you have a problem here. A problem that is not going away, because we are not going away.”

TAPinto Wayne will update this story as more information comes out.

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Coach Roca's statement:

"I am a former Wayne Valley graduate who came back to find a program I loved struggling and rudderless. I have worked each year to try and return the program to its true nature : a program made up of hardworking, dedicated, and passionate individuals. I believed the right way to achieve this is thru instilling the ideals that you must earn everything you get, never to blame others as a scapegoat, rally around one another as a brotherhood and together all goals can be achieved. I have been lucky enough to work with some terrific players, coaches , and parents who epitomized these ideals and I will always be grateful for our time spent together."