The Manhasset school board voted Thursday night to not renew the contract of the girls varsity lacrosse team head coach who guided them to a state championship win this year, replacing her with assistant coach Meg Clarke.
Team members wearing team shirts touting the team’s 2018 win in the Class B Championship in June, along with many of their parents, filled the Charlie Cardillo Community Room to object to a final decision to remove head coach Danielle Gallagher.
Superintendent of Schools Vincent Butera said he could not disclose why Gallagher was not recommended because it was a personnel matter, but that the “decision came with much consideration and thought” and he was grateful to community members for their input.
“It’s quite evident that Danielle means a great deal to many people in the community, and I want to personally extend appreciation to her for 13 years of service to the lacrosse program here in Manhasset,” Butera said in a follow-up statement on Friday. “I know that this decision is very personal to the lacrosse community and to the Manhasset community as a whole.”
“I am confident that coach Clarke and assistant coach [Jackie] Williams will help carry on the tradition of excellence of the Manhasset girls lacrosse program, and look forward to another successful season this spring,” Butera added.
The subject of Gallagher’s appointment first arose at a June board meeting, where lacrosse players and parents expressed concern that Gallagher, the head Manhasset girls varsity lacrosse coach for eight years and a coach for 13, wasn’t reappointed.
A petition on change.org calling for the board to support Gallagher had more than 1,100 signatures as of Friday.
Kelly Trotta, a member of the lacrosse team, said the first thing several seniors leaving for college discussed at a recent meet-up was “how sad” the Gallagher situation is and how it doesn’t let them move forward on a positive note.
And while Trotta said she appreciates how much time has been taken to listen, meet, and read letters, she said many team members also took time to write those letters.
“This is just something that has been over our heads the whole summer, which kind of sticks,” Trotta said before board members voted, “especially coming off something so amazing like a state championship.”
Colleen Arnold, a parent whose daughter is on the lacrosse team, asked board members to consider what they’re teaching the girls and to allow for a one-year transition period for Gallagher.
“If there’s any way of allowing a transition period, to allow a coach that has given so much to so many girls, the opportunity to go out with some dignity and some respect, I think that’s very important for the team here,” Arnold said.
Board President Regina Rule said Trotta and another student spoke “beautifully” and showed there’s “strong bond as a team,” but said “we can’t look back at this point” and “implore[d] all of us to band together and move forward and do everything we can to continue to support these girls.”
“We’ve got a lot of talent on the team and there can be incredible momentum,” Rule said.
Megan Trotta, Kelly’s mother, asked Rule if she thought it was fair the team found out at a Board of Education ceremony honoring their state win that “their head coach, their mentor, is being let go.”
“I mean, that’s not appropriate,” Trotta said.
“This is not the forum to do that Megan, I’m sorry,” Rule said. “We can’t talk about that at this point.”
Sabrina Roszko, a parent, then asked Rule if she ever played a team sport, to which she said, “No ma’am.”
“It’s about chemistry and they got here because of chemistry. The chemistry is completely gone,” Roszko said. “We will never get it back. Completely gone.”
Drury Gallagher, a 46-year resident of Manhasset and Danielle Gallagher’s father, said he usually let his children – who attended the Manhasset schools – fight their own battles and learn from them.
Gallagher also said his daughter began playing lacrosse on the boy’s team growing up, as it was before Title IX called for separate teams.
She then became an All-American athlete at the College of William and Mary and played on the U.S. Elite Women’s Lacrosse team in 1987, participating in four lacrosse world cups.
Then, 13 years ago, Gallagher said she told him she was asked to coach at Manhasset High School – a decision she made because they gave her so much.
“You don’t know what you’re doing when you make decisions like this. I have my four grandchildren in Manhasset High and when I see something, injustice like this happen, it’s a disgrace and I ask one question: why?” Gallagher said.
“And nobody can answer me. All these years of my kids going to Manhasset High and this is what happens,” Gallagher added. “It’s a disgrace.”
Rule said the school is forbidden under state law to discuss specifics about personnel, but recommended following up with Superintendent Butera.
Pam McDonough, who has taught at the school for nearly 40 years and coached Danielle Gallagher as a student-athlete in 1985, said the letting go was a product of a “personal vendetta” and that Gallagher had not been subject to an evaluation prior to being told “she lost sight of the educational process.”
McDonough also said the process was “horrific” and that it has taken away the girls team’s “leader, their mentor, the person who cares about them most.”
“I have never seen such a disgrace of personal values just embraced that I did this year,” McDonough said. “I bled orange and blue until this summer and I think you all know that.”
“To say that she was a hard coach, that she wasn’t easy with kids, you will never ever ever ever get a state tournament championship from a group of girls you are going to coddle,” McDonough later added.
Carlo Prinzo, a 12-year trustee, said he didn’t plan to speak but felt compelled to comment on the “tumult” because he felt “so disturbed” by some of the remarks.
He said people “have no clue how many conversations we have had,” whether it’s at King Kullen, having dinner at Strathmore, or at one of his homes where three people cornered him and “beat the hell out of me over lacrosse.”
“I wish I could tell you the number of people who have come and said, ‘Okay, lets go, move on,'” Prinzo said. “I wish I could talk to you all about those conversations that all of us have had.”
Prinzo said he had empathy for the student athletes and believed the escalation “was the doing of one person.”
“For them, not for anyone else, for the students who made the team – the girls, the girls – … for them I have empathy. For them I feel bad that it got messed up on a day that was very important for them,” Prinzo said of the day the Board of Education honored the girls for becoming state champions.
“But outside of that, when it comes time to vote, I will vote with no reservation on how we’re proceeding on this agenda.”
Butera, when asked for what else he could share about the process, said that typically coaching assignments end in June and the athletic director, James Amen, would make recommendations. But this summer was different, Butera said – he estimated personally having between 60 and 80 conversations about Gallagher’s appointment.
“We did not turn away anyone who wanted to speak,” Butera said.
Amen then forwarded recommendations based on the feedback and what was shared in public meetings within the last week for board discussion and a decision, Butera said.
Just before the vote, Kelly Trotta spoke again and questioned why the board isn’t doing “what’s in the best interest of us” by letting Gallagher remain as their coach.
“And I’m not trying to say it to come off as aggressive, because I don’t want to be an aggressive person,” Trotta said, soon fighting through tears. “It’s just… really confusing, that you keep saying you want the best … for us, but no one’s listening to us.”
After the vote and outside the district office, Colleen Arnold said the decision has hurt the team.
“I think the board has made a mistake and has taught our children that life is simply unfair and that you can work very hard for something, you can actually succeed, and with no explanation, it can be taken away from you,” Arnold said.
Arnold added that she thinks the decision has left the team distraught and “destroyed what otherwise was really solid team chemistry.”
“Now it’s full of finger pointing, even amongst each other, on whose side who was on,” Arnold said. “It has been extremely difficult for these kids who have worked so hard to achieve so much under the leadership of Danielle Gallagher.”