A father who wants his son to play more and a coach who disagrees lead to a dispute that divides Warhawks supporters.
By LAURA LEE
Published December 14, 2003
SEMINOLE - A rift between some of Seminole's coaching staff and members of the football booster club has led to the school's administration demanding control of the club's money.
At the core of the dispute lies a disagreement between coach Sam Roper and Seminole Warhawks Football Booster Club president Vincent Catalano over the role and utilization of Catalano's son, Anthony, a senior on the team.
Roper, Seminole's coach for 19 years, said he had trouble communicating with some club members and took his problem to principal Rick Misenti. Misenti decided to dissolve the club as an outside support group, forcing boosters to turn their money over to an internal school account.
Athletic director Craig Thompson sent the club a letter last week demanding the club, which has raised more than $134,000 for the program over the past two years, deposit its funds into an internal school account by Monday and disband as a formal organization using the school's name and trademark.
Catalano, who said Friday he would resign if that would make the problem go away, has been outspoken about his frustration in the way he thinks his son has been treated as a player and prospective college recruit. He went to the county athletic director this fall and asked that Roper be fired and tried to transfer his son over the summer. He said he assumed the school's action was to punish him.
Catalano received a letter from Misenti on Friday stating the booster club had violated school board policy, and because of Catalano's actions the booster club was no longer supportive to the school.
In an interview Misenti would not comment on Catalano but alluded to communication problems between the booster board and the administration and coaching staff.
Catalano immediately appealed the action to Area Superintendent Cathy Athanson, who is reviewing the matter.
About 40 parents and supporters, Roper, Thompson and several assistants aired their thoughts at a meeting Tuesday at the Seminole Recreation Center.
Catalano explained why he thought the action was being taken to penalize him. He spoke of his struggle with the coaching staff, particularly Roper and Roper's 18-year assistant Joe Fabrizio, in recognizing his son's potential and the lack of assistance in promoting him to college recruiters. Fabrizio's son, Joey, who led the county in rushing last season, and Catalano's son play the same position. Catalano said his son, a 5-foot-10, 218-pound fullback who can run the 40 in about 4.6 seconds, was never fully utilized, even after Joey Fabrizio's graduation.
"I believe my situation is one of the major reasons as to why they want to disband the booster club," said Catalano, who has hired a recruiting service to help his son find a college.
Roper disputed Catalano's view in an interview, saying, "Anything he's asked concerning his son, I've always given him time to talk about that."
Booster treasurer Debbie Frain said she also had a conflict with Roper about her son and said the coach held a fundraiser in the booster club's name without authorization.
A few people interrupted Catalano and Frain, saying personal issues should have nothing to do with the club. Catalano was accused by a few of having a vendetta against the coaching staff. Others defended him.
The meeting turned unruly, as people shouted at each other, pointing fingers and taking sides. Wives tugged on their husband's shirt-tails, trying to calm them down.
"We're all adults here," board member Barbi Pierson said, trying to bring order to the room. "We're not setting a very good example for our kids."
But after two hours there was no resolution, and many unanswered questions lingered. What would this mean for the future of the club? Could boosters still raise money?
Thompson assured the group it could still support the team much in the same way it does now, but it would not have the same control over the money.
Other activities at Seminole, such as the boys soccer and girls basketball teams, are supported by internal booster clubs, Thompson said. The essential difference is the school, not the booster club, controls the money. The change isn't uncommon, county athletic director Walter Weller said. Sometimes the organization finds it more convenient if the school handles the bookkeeping.
People left the meeting with hurt feelings, said Linda Castillo, a booster for three years. She said she wanted what's best for the club and the kids, and at this point she isn't sure what that is. She thinks highly of all the people involved.
"Somehow, something just went astray in more than one way," Castillo said.
Catalano said some parents have asked him not to resign.
"I know it sounds like a dad who thinks his kid is great," Catalano said. "I really am more realistic. With Anthony's size and speed it would appear appropriate to find a place for him on the field."
Weller told Catalano this fall that he didn't control the hiring and firing of coaches. But to investigate Catalano's claim of unfair treatment, he went to games and documented Anthony's playing time. In one game against Osceola he noted Anthony played the entire game on defense and alternated series on offense. Weller decided Catalano's allegations were unfounded.
"You're always going to have a parent that's unhappy and a player that's unhappy," Roper said. "You try to remain as positive as you can."
At Seminole's last game, a loss to Clearwater, Vincent Catalano and Joe Fabrizio got into a shouting match after which Catalano was detained by security. Fabrizio's lawyer followed with a letter asking that Catalano be warned against trespassing on school grounds. Misenti declined to comment on the issue, and Fabrizio could not be reached for comment.
Roper said he didn't want to take anything away from the boosters and what they've done for the program, but he was losing his ability to interact with some of the leadership.
"The president of the booster club and the treasurer of the booster club are pretty important people," Roper said. "If we're in a situation where they're holding a grudge against me, that puts me in a bind."
With finals and a winter break, it's unlikely the issue will be resolved soon. A meeting with Misenti, Roper and Marcus Castillo, who is a board member, lawyer and certified mediator, is scheduled for January.