For 19 consecutive seasons Tom Rotanz has been the Head Boys Lacrosse Coach at Shoreham-Wading River High School on Long Island. During that stretch, Rotanz has guided the program to five state championship titles (the latest coming in 2011), a Long Island championship last year, while helping countless student-athletes make their way onto NCAA rosters.
An SWR school board meeting on Tuesday night revealed that Rotanz would not retain his job as the coach of the team, and what had been an ugly situation set to brew, is quickly becoming a steaming hot pot of disaster for people on both sides of the debate.
According to news reports, current and former players spoke on behalf of Rotanz, and offered high levels of praise. So did many parents, and other supporters of the program. The board reached a different conclusion however, and at least one member said, “I think we need new leadership,” as Rotanz was labelled as “too controversial.” As far as I can tell, very little information was given to back up these claims.
Then the meeting got REALLY ugly. One person in attendance (a journalist) made it personal with a board member. The board member told him to sit down. The man’s response was more or less “make me.” The two were separated before anything truly embarrassing happened, but the fact that a fist fight almost broke out in a board meeting does not speak well for the community, or it’s leadership.
Tempers are flaring, and it’s likely that the flames have been fanned for some time. The firing of Rotanz is not a new topic at SWR. A couple of years back, a group of parents pushed for his removal. That time, other parents rushed to his defense, and he was kept on as the coach via a board vote. In 2002, Rotanz was also pressured to leave after an off the field incident, but nothing came of it.
The school district has said they will not rehire Rotanz, who works in the Rocky Point school district. All coaches at SWR who were not SWR employees had their coaching jobs advertised, and opened for competition. At some point before the meeting and vote, Rotanz had been offered a one year contract (which would have allowed him to coach this year), but only if he agreed to retire after that. Rotanz refused the offer.
All in all, this is not a pretty situation. People on both sides are clearly passionate about the outcome, and unfortunately, the worst is starting to show at times. If the answer for either side is to promote violence in a meeting, perhaps SWR’s school district quote “I think we need new leadership” is true, but as the above suggests, the problem is clearly not limited to just Rotanz, if he’s truly even part of the problem at all.
There is a severe lack of public information in this story, and at the end of the day, the kids in Shoreham-Wading River are being hurt. They are watching adults act like children, and get away with it. As more information comes out, we’ll keep you updated, but until the above offered reasons become more than empty blanket comments one thing is probably true:
SWR may just need a lacrosse great now more than ever.