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What was the real reason for Fleming's dismissal?

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published February 06. 2013 4:00AM

Groton - The question lingers a little more than a week later now: Did Chad Fleming's recent violation of "No Child Left Behind" merit his dismissal as Fitch High School's boys' basketball coach?

Answer: I think not.

Sadly, though, the evidence says Fleming had no chance to keep his job.

Fleming, in his first season as head coach, was dismissed last week. Athletic director Marc Romano called it "an administrative decision" and couldn't comment because it was "a personnel issue."

Multiple sources in school confirmed that Fleming was fired because as many as four players were not on the team bus traveling home from the Jan. 23 game at Coventry. The players, according to the sources, were left at the school. They caught a ride from a parent and joined the bus later.

I'm not sure why Fleming didn't realize they were four players short. I'm also not sure why the players on the bus pulled a Sgt. Schultz - I know nothing, I hear nothing, I see nothing - knowing four of their teammates were left behind.

Seems that perhaps Fleming's superiors weren't the only ones who wanted him out.

But I'll still make the argument that Fleming, while deserving some disciplinary action, should not have been fired.

It turns out, though, that Fleming tossed a softball up to his superiors, who were looking for a reason to get rid of him.

How do I know that? Because another coach in the league sent me a text Jan. 18 saying, "Fitch approached me the other night about the head job next year. Smh."

(For the texting challenged, "smh" stands for "shaking my head.")

And who is to say the coach in question was the only one approached?

Normally, I'd question the wisdom of such hiring and firing practices.

But it's business as usual at Fitch.

To wit:

• Girls' basketball coach Dave Huber was dismissed last year, only to regain his job after deciding to pursue a recently passed "due process" law for high school coaches. Several school sources say Huber's case never had to be heard after state officials learned protocol had not been followed at Fitch. The sources said Huber's yearly evaluations were several years behind.

• Former boys' basketball coach Gary Ballestrini resigned after last season, confident in his knowledge that he was about to get the "we're going in another direction" speech. They hired Fleming, despite ample support for Fitch graduate and Salve Regina assistant Alick Furtick, who also applied for the job.

• Fitch is also looking for a football coach now that the decision has come from on high that assistant principal Mike Emery cannot coach any longer. All Emery did this season was get the Falcons into the playoffs.

I happened to be in the locker room at Windsor the night the Falcons were eliminated. Never in my 22 years here did I see more earnest affection for a head coach than that night, when every single player sought Emery and threw their arms around him, many in tears.

What a neat sight, I thought, that an assistant principal could forge that kind of relationship with the kids.

Sadly, no other administrators were around to see it.

Maybe then what's best for the kids would have superseded the whims of a few.

And now we learn that they were going behind Fleming's back seeking a new coach in the middle of their new coach's first season.

Does anybody really know what time it is over there?

Does anybody really care?

To think what a proud place it used to be. It wasn't so long ago that Emery wore a tuxedo to Yale University, celebrated as the coach of the state's No. 1 team at the annual Walter Camp Dinner. Not so long ago that Tom Doyle perspired through his shirt the night the Falcons went into New London and left with the ECC basketball title. Not so long ago that Ed Harvey ended a brilliant, 400-win career with his third state title.

Good thing Marc Peluso (baseball) and Kate Peruzzotti (softball), among a few others, are still around to give the place some credibility.

Note to principal Joe Arcarese: Your building, your responsibility. There is no condoning or justifying any of this.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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