Oyster Bay High School assistant football coach resigns in protest

Says head coach was fired, but shouldn’t have been


Joseph Baccarella, an Oyster Bay High School assistant football coach, said he resigned on Jan. 23 to protest the firing of Joe Knoll, the team’s head coach. A half-dozen parents of current and former football players accused the high school’s coaches at the Board of Education meeting on Jan. 22 of physically and verbally mistreating players, and they said the coaches used racial slurs.

“What was said is all lies,” Baccarella said. “There is no racism. Joe was my high school coach. The only reason why I worked [at OBHS] was because Joe was there.”

Dr. Laura Seinfeld, the Oyster Bay-East Norwich School District superintendent, would not discuss the meeting, nor would she confirm whether Knoll had been fired. Coaching positions, she said, are not permanent. The Board of Education annually appoints coaches.

“After careful consideration, we have decided to restructure the football program and move it in a different direction,” said Seinfeld, adding that the district is investigating its options. “We have time before we restructure for the fall of 2019.”

Calls to Board of Education President John McEvoy and Vice President Todd Cronin were not returned.

The only black player at OBHS, senior Jean-Baptiste Yahve, who is of Haitian descent, was the target of physical and verbal abuse by an assistant coach whom the players called “Coach Westin” in 2017, parents said at the Jan. 22 meeting. Seinfeld said she could not give his full name, nor would she say whether he had been fired, remarking that it was a personnel issue.

Baccarella said there were other black football players from Jericho High School who played on OBHS’s team. Any complaints about Yahve, Baccarella said, had nothing to do with ethnicity. “He was late to practice every day,” he said. “Yahve was talented, but he had the worst attitude. I sent an email to the Board of Education on Friday telling them they had it wrong letting Joe go.”

Yahve’s mother, Marie Dorcelian, spoke of the anxiety that she felt seeing her son upset and crying during football. In 2017, she said, “My son was slapped in the face” by Westin, adding that after Westin was no longer there, the problems did not end for her son.

Baccarella said Yahve was never slapped. “The kid was disrespectful,” Baccarella said. “I thought the kid was going after Westin. Westin pushed him away.”

“Everyone is treated equally,” Baccarella added. “And I find it hard to believe that Yahve was crying.”

Seinfeld said that board members, administrators and the staff took the allegations about the football program seriously. “As a district, we do not condone any violations of our Dignity for all Students Act,” she said. “These are policies that our administrators and staff work diligently to ensure that there is a safe and supportive learning environment for all of our students.”

The administration, she said, had “thoroughly investigated” the accusations against the coaches.

Parents of five football players met in December with administrators, including OBHS Principal Sharon Lasher, Athletic Director Kevin Trentowski and Seinfeld. Dorcelian was not among them. The parents, who were at the school board meeting, said they did not receive help. Seinfeld would not comment on the meeting.

The father of quarterback Sean O’Toole, also named Sean, said at the meeting that parents and football players found it difficult to contact Knoll. “It doesn’t make sense that the school has a head coach that doesn’t even have a cell phone,” said O’Toole, who is who also the president of the Oyster Bay-Bayville Generals, a youth football program. “He’s that unreachable to the team.”

Baccarella said that O’Toole had a personal grievance. And coaches are not required to have cell phones, he said, noting, “If the school district wanted him to have one, they should have given him one.”

He shared with the Guardian the email that he had sent to the Board of Education. In it, Baccarella asked, “Why would the players need to have the coach’s cell phone? I will never give out my cell number to players. We can communicate in other ways.”

Rodney Hill, a parent of a former OBHS football player, is African-American. He said at the meeting that he had complained to the athletic director in 2014 about how players were treated differently. Although his son had helped the team to victory, his name was left out of the reporting in Newsday, Hill said.

It’s “the responsibility of the winning coach to notify the papers, and the boy’s name was never printed in the paper,” O’Toole had said.

Baccarella, who had coached at OBHS since 2013, said he did not know Hill or his son. “If anyone on the board has called Newsday to report a score and events of a game, [they] would understand that the coaches don't control whose name gets in unless the person scored, and only the winning team reports that,” Baccarella wrote in his email. “If you followed football the last few years at O.B., we were not overly successful.”