I have in front of me the rule that resulted in the suspension for the rest of the season of our highly successful softball coach, Lou Reale, and wonder, given the apparent fact that Section XI’s executive director can hardly remember the last time it was violated (whether knowingly or inadvertently) before this year, why it is in the section’s handbook to begin with.
The rule, approved in October 2007, reads: “If an individual or team exceeds the maximum number of contests permitted by Section XI [the governing body for public high school sports in Suffolk] the penalty is team ineligibility from the date of the violation for the rest of the season, including playoffs.”
Pretty Draconian, don’t you think? Practically a capital offense.
The number of scrimmages a team can play is apparently unlimited, but God help you if you play one more official contest than the agreed upon number, which in softball’s case is 20.
It is pretty much agreed that Reale, in scheduling more nonleague games than he should have, did not intend to gain any advantage by so doing. It was, as he said, an honest, though admittedly “stupid,” mistake inasmuch as he’d become used to replacing the two league games East Hampton would have played with Amityville (a perennial League VI dropout) with nonleaguers with Connetquot and Bayport-Blue Point, where he began his career.
This year, though, he failed to take into account that Elwood-John Glenn, which moved into the league, had taken over Amityville’s schedule, and thus he went over the 20-game limit.
After having played a nonleague game with Hampton Bays (which had replaced Bayport on the schedule), Reale realized a violation had occurred and immediately reported it to East Hampton’s athletic director, Joe Vas, who, according to Reale, suspended him, apparently to underline their position that an honest mistake had been made.
Reale said he was told at first that he would be suspended by the Section from the next scheduled league game, with Kings Park, that he would have to forfeit the last game of the regular season, with Rocky Point, and that the team would be banned from playoff contention.
A subsequent appeal, by Vas and Reale, resulted in restoring the team’s playoff chances but in banning Reale forthwith for the remainder of the season.
The idea, we are told, was not to hurt the kids, but to hold the coach — who readily admitted his mistake and who has undoubtedly suffered exceedingly as the result of it — accountable.
He has agreed that he should be held accountable, that that, after all, is what he always tells his players to do, to admit their errors when they make them, to face the music.
But I can’t help but think that the punishment in this case — which did not exactly mirror a cited precedent involving girls lacrosse coaches at Sayville and Babylon that had come to light through an e-mailed complaint to Section XI’s executive director — did not fit the “crime.”
This man has coached wonderful softball teams for nigh 30 years. He is among the state’s top five or six in career wins with more than 400. Under his leadership East Hampton debuted in the state’s Final Four in 2001, and played again in the Final Four in 2007 and ’08. Many of his protégées have gone on to get scholarships and star on collegiate softball teams. He self-reported to his athletic director, which was the right thing to do, and nobody had to send an e-mail to Section XI’s executive director.
He deserved better — especially given Section XI’s tacit admission in the way it handled the girls lacrosse coaches’ and Reale’s cases that the rule’s penalties were deserving of amendment.
It is understandable that Reale, having seen the rule amended once, might wonder whether, through appealing further, to Section XI’s athletic council, as is permitted, it could be amended twice.
The question of appealing further was raised at the East Hampton School Board meeting on May 3, but the board, most of whose members apparently were sympathetic, ultimately decided, after meeting in executive session, to forgo that and to have the school’s attorney write a strongly worded letter to Section XI protesting Reale’s treatment.
As aforesaid, the coach deserved better.
And the team did too.