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Babylon High School baseball coach replaced after fundraising furor

Amid questions about his future, Babylon High School

Amid questions about his future, Babylon High School baseball coach Anthony Sparacio speaks to his players at the school on Monday, Feb. 29, 2016, before a board of education meeting that is to ponder his fate. Photo Credit: John Roca

A beloved high school baseball coach is out of a job after a four-minute meeting of the Babylon School Board Monday night.

Board members voted 7-0 to replace health teacher Anthony Sparacio, briefly asked for comment, then adjourned and retreated to a private room before many in the audience of dozens of parents and current and former players realized what had happened.

“They just pulled the wool over our eyes,” said Hunter Chiacchere, a senior and a utility infielder.

Sparacio apparently violated a district policy on gifts and donations in January when he started an online fundraiser for baseball equipment without seeking the district’s permission.

In a statement released shortly after the meeting, district superintendent Linda Rozzi said she was unable to comment in detail on personnel matters but that “decisions made by the administration and the Board of Education are in the best interest of our students.”

Sparacio told the crowd after the meeting that “I put on a fundraiser that wasn’t approved.” But, he said, “not once have I done anything to harm anyone . . . I put my baseball players ahead of everything, and I put my family on the back burner.”

Victor Manzella, a North Babylon teacher, will replace Sparacio as coach.

Sparacio began teaching at Babylon schools in 1992 and worked as assistant coach for five years before taking the head coach spot in 2008. His teaching duties continue.

He led the team to league, county and Long Island championships in 2012. The team finished 18-6 last year and was well positioned to make another playoff run this year.

With a new turf field but little money left over for extras like a tarp, a batting cage and other equipment, parents say that Sparacio raised about $2,700 from donors including the rock star Jon Bon Jovi, a friend of some players’ parents.

While parents said the rule against fundraising was rarely enforced, they also said Sparacio shut down the fundraiser at the district’s behest and returned the money to donors earlier this year.

That action may have been too little, too late to save his job. Cindy Chiacchere, Hunter’s mother, showed a reporter a screenshot she said she took of Babylon coaching positions earlier this month on the website for Section XI, the governing body for Suffolk County high school sports. It included a listing for varsity baseball coach.

Opposing coach Steve DeCaro of Mattituck called the matter “absolutely ridiculous” in an interview Monday. “I’ve been coaching 32 years and I think I’ve seen it all, and then something like this happens,” DeCaro, whose 27-1 team were state champions last year and took their only loss to Babylon. “I feel sorry for the people of Babylon.”

Several parents said they were concerned what impact Sparacio’s sudden departure could have on the team and on their sons’ recruiting prospects for college baseball.

But there were bigger issues at stake, some said.

Sparacio “has been a stand-up guy in all my dealings with him,” said Anthony Vano, whose son plays on the team. “I’m trying to teach my children that you respect a man like that, and you stand by him when he’s under fire.”

Robert Richardelli, president of the Babylon Teachers’ Association, declined to comment Monday.

By Monday afternoon, 1,388 people had signed an online petition to keep Sparacio as coach.

With Gregg Sarra

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