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Sports Center

Feb 3, 2009 12:28 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

A Fine Line
Commentary by Cailin Brophy,
Sports Editor, The Southampton Press

Feb 3, 2009 12:28 PM

Should Fred Marienfeld, who was recently fired as the varsity boys basketball coach at Pierson High School, have spoken openly in a public forum about the conduct of specific players on his team? Probably not.

Was his firing in the midst of the season, the day before a game, too hasty of a move? I believe yes.

Coaching personalities run the gamut of extremes. For every Bobby Knight or Woody Hayes, there is a Pete Carroll or Dick Vermeil, the “player’s coaches” who make cultivating friendships with their players and creating a low-stress environment a priority, sometimes at the expense of a more rigid level of discipline and expectations.

The goal of every coach, of course, is to find a happy medium between the chair-throwing rage of a Knight and the coddling and hand-holding that can lead to a lack of respect. This, of course, is not easy to do. And it’s especially difficult in the world of high school sports.

Sure, in pro sports, firing and hiring occurs at an increasingly rapid rate, and job security is pretty much non-existent. Wins and losses aren’t at nearly so high a premium when teenagers are involved. But the pressures facing high school coaches can often be just as fierce because of one crucial element: parents.

Parents should absolutely have a say in their children’s education, and it is natural and healthy for a parent to question or challenge school officials if he or she has a child who is being treated unfairly in any way. Because my job involves dealing with student-athletes on a daily basis, I’ve seen both the best and the worst that varsity high school sports can bring out in parents—and, unfortunately, the worst can be pretty ugly.

I don’t envy coaches at all. The dual obligations to win and to set the right example for young adults are often at odds. Is it better to kick a kid off a team if he has a bad attitude, knowing that he may fall into a pattern of worse behavior without the discipline and diversion that a team sport offers? Is it fair to the rest of the team to keep a difficult child in the mix if he or she is providing a bad example to other teammates? These are tough issues that coaches must grapple with.

Fred Marienfeld would be described by most people as a passionate coach, and the connotation of that word can be positive or negative, depending on the context. In covering the Whalers and speaking with him on a weekly basis for nearly four full seasons, I have always found him to be sensible and discerning about what should or should not be put in print. I would also describe him as “old school”—he’s not a fan of excuses, attitudes or laziness, and he isn’t afraid to raise his voice or speak his mind. These are qualities that I happen to believe make for a good coach. But it seems those qualities have cost him his job as the coach of the basketball team.

Marienfeld hasn’t spoken to the local media since he was let go, so I can only wonder whether or not he feels regret about going on the defensive and speaking openly about the specific issues he had with certain players in an article in The East Hampton Star. I think it’s fair to say that was an error in judgment. But it was followed by what I believe was a bigger error in judgment: his midseason dismissal. And with the aggressiveness of parents being a key theme in this whole debacle, I have to wonder if that played a role in Marienfeld’s quick firing.

Bill Madsen, the first-year Pierson athletic director, was adamant on Monday in stating that Marienfeld’s firing was not the result of pressure from parents.

“Parents really had nothing to do with this decision,” he said. “You can’t say negative things about students, and that’s what prompted this,” he added, referring to the article in The Star in which Marienfeld detailed his specific issues with certain players.

Even if we extend the Pierson administration the benefit of the doubt that they did not base their decision on the desires of parents, it’s hard to deny 
that parents played a role in this 
tumultuous story. Their attacks are likely what made Marienfeld feel compelled to defend himself. We can all talk about how adults are not supposed to speak badly about students, but when your character is being assassinated, it’s pretty hard to keep your mouth shut.

Other coaches from the area agree that dealing with parents can often be one of the biggest challenges of being a coach, and many think that in recent years parents have become increasingly difficult to deal with when it comes to inserting their opinions.

“It’s scary,” longtime Hampton Bays boys basketball coach Pete Meehan said. “Parents see the game through the eyes of their kid, and coaches see the big picture. I try hard to remind myself that you never hold a grudge against a kid for who his parents are and what they believe in. It’s their job to stand by their kids. But there’s such a conflict of interest. I don’t know if any coach is immune to it.

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Thanks you Cailin, for a smart look at modern coaching, and the good and bad consequences.
By tjpg (11), Sag Harbor on Feb 3, 09 3:41 PM
Thank you for an objective and intelligent assessment of the situation. I hope that Mr. Marienfeld will rise above and find a positive opportunity out of this unfortunate event.
By waver1 (1), Quoge on Feb 3, 09 5:31 PM
Mike, if its so 'bottom of the ladder', why are you taking the time to read and write about it? You know nothing about this situation, so stop commenting, you ignorant jerk.
By tjpg (11), Sag Harbor on Feb 3, 09 7:18 PM
The way I see it is the school has a new administration that is not from the area and not part of the Sag Harbor Old Boys Club, The school has a code of conduct for students and athletes which we all know was never followed before. Unfortunately Mr. Marienfield was the first person they enforced it on.
Hopefully some willl learn from this unfortunate situation and our kids will benfit someway. We can only HOPE
By J. Totta (106), Sag Harbor on Feb 3, 09 8:22 PM
Sooo Mike I guess its ok for a guy like you to make degrading statements about other schools players not even involved? All Ross and Shelter Island players are patsies? Botton rung of the ladder? Nice. People like you are part of the problem. Lawsuits, great solution. Maybe those parents should file against you. You sound like a real winner and a great guy.
By Landshark44 (8), Colora on Feb 4, 09 8:54 PM
No one here has mentioned "coach/AD" Madsen who has left a wake of disaster at Rocky Point. Just ask him about the girls hoop program at the Point. He is the bully here and is looking to make a name for himself. So many couldn't stand him at the Point that they helped him pack up and paid for his moving bill!!
By coacheee (2), greenport on Feb 5, 09 10:12 AM
Well you of all people Cailin, should know how things operate in Sag Harbor ,I believe you were around when they threw the last coach there under the bus so Marienfeld could have this job.
By bigmac (8), portjeff on Feb 6, 09 10:03 AM
Well? Your silence speaks volumes.
By bigmac (8), portjeff on Feb 10, 09 8:40 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By tjpg (11), Sag Harbor on Feb 10, 09 1:47 PM
I think Cailin's article spoke volumes, not her choice to be silent now, as a reporter.
By tjpg (11), Sag Harbor on Feb 10, 09 1:53 PM
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