WESTPORT — For the second time in four seasons, parental involvement is having major ramifications on the Staples High School softball program.
Third-year coach Luigi Cammarota confirmed on Monday morning he was suspended by the school on Friday, pending a reported investigation by the Connecticut Department of Children and Families.
In a letter sent to Cammarota, Staples High Principal James D’Amico wrote: “The school district has placed you on paid leave without prejudice pending the outcome of an investigation related to reports of concerns about your interactions with girls on the varsity softball team.”
Cammarota said D’Amico told him in a telephone conversation the DCF was also investigating the charges, but the coach said he has been told by DCF that he is not under investigation of any kind.
“They informed me they had no investigation into me or anything to do with Staples softball,” said Cammarota, who has 16 years of softball coaching experience in the state. “I reached out to the principal again and he didn’t want to hear it. He just kept saying, ‘The administrative leave stands and I don’t know what to tell you.’ ”
According to multiple sources close to the program, the suspension stems from the fallout of a post-game confrontation that occurred on May 4, after the Wreckers defeated Darien 9-3.
Cammarota said had a heated exchange with a parent of one of his starting players that day, an incident that occurred while he was talking to umpires after the game about a rules verification.
“That’s totally accurate. This would be the second time,” Cammarota said. “(The parent) said I was a disgrace to the town of Westport and the softball program.”
Cammarota said the umpires kept the two separated, but the parent — after starting to drive off — stopped his car and got out to continue to the incident.
“He started walking to the three of us saying, ‘You’re not going to yell at me and you’re not going to yell at our kids,’ ” Cammarota said.
Cammarota informed Staples Athletic Director Marty Lisevick about the confrontation. He also said the parent’s daughter was pulled from a recent game after making three errors in one inning. The player also was kept out of the lineup later in the season due to a hitting slump.
Otherwise, the coach said, the player had been in the starting lineup for most of the season.
“Benching a player? That’s not mental abuse,” Cammarota said. “It’s either (do something) or get off the pot. You’re a varsity athlete on a varsity team. We’re not going to sing ‘Kumbaya.’ We’re here to win.
“It’s entitled parents with entitled kids,” Cammarota added. “Some parents just have too much money in their pocket and know some people in high places, so they feel they can pull some strings. That’s what I feel is happening. I’ve done nothing wrong. I’ve done nothing that no other coach in the league would have done.”
Messages left for Lisevick, D’Amico and Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer all went unreturned.
It is the policy of most school districts not to comment on personnel matters.
During a meeting with players, and in an ensuing email to parents, D’Amico appeared to downplay the matter.
“Coach Cammarota will not be with the team for a few days, and will be unable to communicate with the girls on the team and their families,” D’Amico wrote in an email to parents on Friday, a copy of which was obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media.
D’Amico did not explain to the parents why Cammarota had been removed from the team.
One parent of a Staples player, who asked not to be identified since the season is ongoing, said some of the Wreckers players were brought in for an interview by the school’s administration. The team’s captains, however, were not among the group that was interviewed, the parent said.
Cammarota was hired in December 2015 and was the Wreckers’ third coach in three seasons, replacing FCIAC coaching legend Charlie Judge (2014) and Sarah Holland (2011-14).
Judge was ousted after one season at Staples following an incident involving a Westport Little League parent who was a friend of then-Superintendent Elliot Landon. During the confrontation, which occurred late in a Staples practice, the parent threatened Judge by telling him he was friends with Landon.
After Judge was dismissed, a large group of Staples players tried to get the coach reinstated, but the school administration refused to listen to their pleas.
Cammarota, who had been Judge’s assistant for four years at Trumbull and one year at Staples, was then promoted to the top position.
“Yeah, I was concerned,” Cammarota admitted, when asked about Westport’s recent history with the softball program. “But I was assured by (Lisevick) that I’d be allowed to coach and not worry about anything else. But that didn’t happen.”
Before his second season at the helm, Cammarota said he was forced to add a captain to his team after a parental complaint reached the administration.
This latest incident is a far more serious matter, though.
Cammarota said he has not hired a lawyer as of Monday, but he has been in touch with a Hartford-based law firm that specializes is slander and libel.
“It tarnishes my reputation,” Cammarota said. “I’m not going to sit back and let them do to me what they did to Charlie. It’s not about the job anymore. It’s about integrity and reputation.”
The Staples coach, who has a 23-31 career record in Westport, has led the Wreckers back in the state tournament after two seasons on the outside.
This season, after a 1-7 start, Staples was 10-8 heading into Monday’s home game against New Canaan.
The last time the Wreckers made the state tournament prior to this season was during Judge’s only season with the team.
Bob Olah, a former minor league baseball player in the New York Mets organization, is taking over the team as its interim coach.
“I know that the girls fully support Coach Olah, and are ready to help him keep the momentum going during this successful season,” D’Amico wrote. “The team was in good spirits this afternoon, and everyone seems ready to complete the regular season on a strong note over the next few days.”
The Staples parent contacted for this story disagreed with D’Amico’s assessment of the mood of the team, saying players — while fully supporting Olah — were more confused and upset following the meeting with the principal.
This is the second time Palmer has been in charge of a school district that has had a high profile run-in between a parent and a coach.
She was the superintendent of schools in Weston when a disgruntled parent hired a private investigator to dig up information on then-boys basketball coach Mike Hvizdo.
In the middle of the 2012-13 season, Palmer fired Hvizdo for starring in an adult-themed short film a decade prior to his coaching career, a movie that included no nudity, but had some bad language and sexual themes.
After retaining legal counsel, Hvizdo was later rehired after receiving a surge of support from parents and the region’s art community.