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Sanity at South Jefferson

Top basketball coach returns; will we learn from it?

This was getting all too familiar.

Again a successful, accomplished high school coach in Central New York was getting scrutiny from his employer. Again the coach’s future was put in jeopardy. Again a large part of the community organized itself in support of the coach.

Except that, this time around, the story did not end in removal, but renewal.

South Jefferson girls basketball coach Pat Bassett, he of the 300-plus wins, eight Section III titles, five state final four appearances and two state Class B championships, is still on the job after getting put on administrative leave for a week.

That means the folks in Adams did not follow the script. Whether at Marcellus with Pete Birmignham, or at Cicero-North Syracuse with Kerry Bennett, or at Utica-Notre Dame with Byron Abraham, the story was turning into an alarming trend that threatened to undermine the authority of coaches in the scholastic ranks.

Someone accuses the coach, or the players, of bad behavior. Regardless of the viability of those accusations, school authorities act quickly and, ultimately, dismiss the coach. Regardless of the behavior, a bad situation is made much worse.

All of these situations were different, of course. With Birmingham, it was simply about who got playing time, and who didn’t like it. With Bennett, it centered around a serious accusation of bullying and vandalism, though the coach’s involvement has always come under fierce dispute.

Moving to the Abraham situation, it seemed even more absurd. Four players on his football team took a week of ROTC classes and missed practices, so Abraham sat them out of the next game. Some parents flipped, and the school, under pressure from them, forced Abraham to sit out the next game. Perhaps because of this saga, Abraham stepped down at season’s end.

Put together, these situations spoke to a growing trend of schools undermining the authority of coaches, perhaps because they were afraid that the aggrieved parties might take some sort of legal action to air their grievances, leading to legal fees and other entanglements.

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