Former coach, schools remain at odds over his dismissal last year

The former Revere High School (RHS) softball coach has thrown a curveball to the school system with a Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) filing that blames age discrimination for ending his long career as the team’s skipper.

Joe Nichinello, who had coached the team for 35 years until this past year, claimed that he and other long-time coaches were dismissed from their positions due to discrimination on the basis of age.

“I believe that [the schools] terminated me and failed to renew my coaching contract based on my age,” the filing read.

Nichinello, 67, filed the complaint last summer, and the MCAD is currently analyzing the matter.

Superintendent Paul Dakin said that the schools believed that they have a very good defense.

“Our position is that we certainly did not discriminate by age and I think we’ll be able to demonstrate that to the courts,” said Dakin. “If age were a factor, I wouldn’t have hired a lot of people in administration or coaching. The number of people his age we have been hiring clearly shows we haven’t discriminated. I’m confident in our position.”

Reached by phone last week, Nichinello said he preferred not to comment on the case, as it is still pending. He did say, though, that he was also confident in his position.

After hiring a new athletic director in 2008, the school officials began replacing a number of RHS coaches who had been on board for many years. Rather than being fired, school directors publicly advertised the coaching positions and then decided not to renew the contracts of some existing coaches.

Among those coaches were Nichinello, former track coach Steve Pavey, and former golf coach Deb Molle – all of whom are in their 50s and 60s.

Such a process isn’t totally unheard of when a new administration takes control of an athletic department – especially one like Revere’s, which has largely been unsuccessful.

Many of the coaches removed, though, had winning records, and when the news broke in 2009 that they weren’t coming back, it caused quite a stir amongst students, faculty and alumni.

Nichinello – the only coach to file a complaint – wrote in the complaint that he had been successful as a coach. He mentioned that he had been a Boston Globe Coach of the Year in the 1990’s and was still very passionate about his duties.

He said after interviewing for the position with a group of teachers, the former RHS principal and the athletic director (who has since resigned for unrelated reasons), he was told the news.

“On or about late March 2009, the athletic director (who is in his late 20s/early 30s) called me and informed me that my contract for the girl’s softball coach would not be renewed for the next school year because the other candidate, (the current coach who is in his late 20s/early 30s), was more passionate about the position than me,” read the complaint. “This is not true and is offensive. I am very passionate about coaching girl’s softball. I started coaching at a time when there was no support for girl’s athletics. I put my own money into the program to buy the…needed equipment…I believe that I was not selected for the position in favor of a far less qualified and experienced candidate.”

At the time of his and others’ dismissal, the schools said that they were looking for more coaches that were in contact with students – that were in the building the entire day and could act as mentors.

Several of the coaches that were not invited to return – including Nichinello – were retired from teaching. Nichinello had retired in 2007, but continued coaching and substitute teaching at RHS.

Nichinello alleged he was relocated from his occasional teaching duties in order to get him out of the RHS building.

“During the 2008-2009 school year, I was only allowed to substitute one time at the high school, and was sent to substitute at the Garfield Elementary school,” he wrote. “I believe that I was not allowed to substitute at the high school so the [schools] could use my lack of contact with high school students as a reason not to keep me in my coaching position at the high school.”

Throughout the two-page complaint, Nichinello alleged a pattern of much younger decision-makers discriminating against much older coaches.

An MCAD complaint can be filed by anyone, and the complaint is literally one person’s version of the events. However, those complaints are submitted and signed under the pains and penalties of perjury.

MCAD typically takes a few years to dispose of a case – depending on its complexity.

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