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Plainedge superintendent defends suspended football coach Rob Shaver

Plainedge football coach Rob Shaver will miss his

Plainedge football coach Rob Shaver will miss his team's season finale this weekend. Credit: James Escher

Plainedge school district Superintendent Ed Salina defended his suspended football coach and criticized the Nassau County sportsmanship rule intended to prevent teams from running up the score against opponents in a letter posted on the district’s website Thursday morning.

Plainedge football coach Rob Shaver became the first varsity coach suspended under Nassau’s “lopsided scores policy” on Tuesday.

“I am all for treating everyone justly, but it is my opinion that Coach Shaver was ‘done wrong’ by this group of self-professed experts on sportsmanship,” Salina wrote.

Salina also said Shaver is “an incredible person, teacher and coach. He has nothing but the best interest of all children at the top of his list every day.”

Shaver is suspended for Plainedge’s season finale this weekend after a six-person committee determined he was wrong to keep his top players on the field in the fourth quarter of a 61-13 win over previously unbeaten South Side Friday night.

Shaver countered that he wasn’t running up the score and only left his best players in because he was concerned South Side might stage a comeback.

Salina, in his 871-word letter posted online, argued that the sportsmanship rule hurts players on the best football teams -- such as Plainedge -- because it leads coaches to have to remove them from the field in non-competitive games.

“What are you teaching children by saying play fairly but now you are playing too well, don’t play anymore for the rest of the game,” the superintendent said. “Where’s the life lessons?”

The rule, in its third year, mandates that coaches of football teams that win by more than 42 points must explain in writing their efforts to prevent such a lopsided score. If the committee has questions with the coach’s explanation, they call the coach in for a hearing.

“Who said they are experts on sportsmanship?” Salina wrote. “Who appointed these people to run this kangaroo court, being the judge, jury, and executioners?”

The six-person committee that voted unanimously to suspend Shaver included two administrators that oversee athletics in the county, three athletic directors and another football coach.

“These are well respected members of the athletic council and the athletic community, and I would not for a minute question their background, their experience, their commitment to kids and their commitment to athletics,” said Jericho Superintendent Hank Grishman, chairman of the superintendents board that oversees high school sports in Nassau.

Matt McLees, Nassau’s football chairman, said the rule came about following the 2016 season because the five superintendents who oversee high school athletics expressed concern over the number of lopsided scores in football.

Charlie Cardillo, executive director of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents, was on the committee that created the rule three years ago. “The spirit of the policy, whether people support it or not, was because there was a tremendous amount of blowouts taking place and we’re in the school education business," he said Thursday. “I think it’s a good thing, the Nassau superintendents do, that there’s now something in place that shows we value healthy competition but we don’t want it to be where the games are so one-sided that it takes away from the experience.”

Cardillo, the retired superintendent for Manhasset schools, said the rule was designed not only to limit blowouts, but also to encourage coaches to spread the playing time around among all players in those less competitive games.

“We’re trying to have games manageable,” he said. “We’re not asking second- and third-string players to not play hard. We want everyone to give all their effort. It’s a fine line of managing the game.”

Salina also questioned the committee’s motives.

“I have knowledge that there are cases in Nassau County where the score was over 42 and this group took little or no action,” he said. “But they suspended Coach Shaver? Sounds like something is wrong with their decision or they made it personal.”

There have been three other games decided by more than 42 points this season, but McLees said the committee was satisfied with those coaches’ explanations as to why the scores became lopsided.

McLees said the rule is designed to encourage coaches to not demoralize players on the losing team, most often by bringing in substitutes earlier. He said coaches who demonstrate that the majority of scoring was done by backup players will not be suspended under this rule.

“The rule is working and the numbers prove it,” said Pat Pizzarelli, who oversees high school sports in Nassau County. “The number of lopsided scores in our games are way down. I’m a realist and I know that a lot of the coaches are not in favor of the lopsided rules policy, but they’re adhering to it.”

Salina isn’t convinced. “The rule is not in place anywhere else in New York, not in Suffolk County, why in Nassau County?” Salina added. “Connecticut tried it and realized it was a failed model and eliminated the rule.”

Connecticut had a similar rule that predated Nassau’s.

Beginning in 2006, football coaches there faced a potential suspension if they won by more than 50 points. A handful of coaches were suspended before the rule was changed in 2016, a spokesman from Connecticut’s high school sports governing body said. Now when a team is winning by 35 points, the officials use a running clock to speed up the game — and the coach is no longer in jeopardy of a suspension.

Salina said he won’t attempt any further appeals of the coach’s suspension because he doesn’t want to jeopardize the coach having to potentially miss any of Plainedge’s playoff games.

“I feel bad about the suspension, but the committee takes each case as it happens,” Pizzarelli said. “They weren’t satisfied with Shaver’s explanation as to what happened. I hope it doesn’t happen again to anyone.”

With Gregg Sarra

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