By Benito Vila
It’s hard for kids to know what to believe sometimes, especially when dealing with adults. Learning Coach Marienfeld had been fired last Thursday left more than a few Pierson varsity basketball players wondering what could possibly come next.
The team had come through a two-week stretch where the coach’s language in a loss led to his suspension, two players quit, a one-sided loss was followed by a close win, and an overtime loss at home preceded another nerve-wracking win. Still, to most, all seemed just as it should be, with the Whalers two wins away from a playoff berth, with five games left to go.
But then the news came Thursday afternoon of Coach Marienfeld speaking his mind in the press about allegations made of his treatment of players, and the school administration’s decision to dismiss him immediately, citing “misconduct.”
Â “It just seemed surreal”, said team captain Joe Dowling. “If they [that hollow un-understandable ‘they’ that makes decisions far from where kids are] were going to do anything, they should have waited,” suggested sophomore Tyler Gilbride.
Gilbride’s classmate Skyler Loesch was more philosophical in saying he was “hoping for the best” and acknowledging, “It is what it is. You can’t do anything about it now.”
Emotions Run On
Coach Marienfeld had led the Whaler boys’ basketball program since 2005, his teams reaching the playoffs each year. “I’m going to miss him,” said Dowling, a sentiment shared by Loesch and Gilbride, the captain explaining, “He helped me out so much with summer league, talking to me and teaching me what I needed to do.”
All three are accepting and welcoming of interim coach Christian Johns, who worked with Loesch and Gilbride when they were in eighth grade. “I love his intensity for the game,” said Gilbride, “and how teams work for him.” Dowling describes Coach Johns as bringing “a whole new perspective on doing everything as a team,” noting, “He’s hard and he wants to win.”
The news of Marienfeld’s dismissal after all the local papers had published their weekly editions set off a slew of online reports and reader commentary. Some of those commentaries attacked the players who left the team, some their parents; many spoke well of Coach Marienfeld, while others felt he got what he deserved. Still others were critical of the Pierson administration with nearly all approaching their entries with a sense of disbelief.
In all this “posting” and “blogging,” the focus has moved away from the game on the court and the kids out there hustling; in fact, it’s moved away from Coach Marienfeld to commentaries on society, anger, and the roles and rights of parents, coaches and players.
Strains and Pains
What remains though are strained friendships, hurt feelings and an inordinate amount of despair and angst being felt by more than a few households. And the two students that chose to step away from playing are feeling it, perhaps more than most, Nick DePetris saying, “Nobody wanted this. I wasn’t out to take his job. I just wanted to have a good senior season. It’s been humiliating.”
Jake Federico spoke sadly of not knowing how to approach a person he’s known and had regard for his whole life. “It’s hard not to be able to acknowledge Fred in the hallway [at school] because I still like him as a person and love his family.”
Both players described the root of their conflict with the coach coming from his insistence they participate in summer league play, work and other sports commitments keeping them away. And both cited instances of feeling treated unfairly despite their best efforts.
The other comments made by DePetris and Federico indicate they have quickly gained a perspective on what happened between they and their coach, saying, “No one understands he can be a different man on the court”; “He made it hard on himself by lashing out”; “It’s like he wanted to make a point that if you don’t commit completely you wouldn’t play”; and “I’m just fine with it; I hope they finish up strong.”
They were also consistent in expressing surprise at the emotion and involvement of so many adults. Federico concluded, “They’re taking this far too seriously. They’re not the kids that worked and gave it their all. And they have their own ideas about what went on. I’ve never quit anything. I called everyone together during practice and said I couldn’t do this anymore. I didn’t just walk out. There was some [back and forth with Coach Marienfeld], but it wasn’t what people make it out to be.”
Plainly, in stating, “What he did was wrong” and “He was talking down on us and harping on weaknesses” both still feel hurt at being singled out and being described the way they were. But both see life going on for them at school, with talk of baseball, soccer, football and college quickly moving conversation away from a time that’s been hard for everyone.