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Thursday, March 6, 2014: Slurs aimed at Mount Vernon lead to suspensions

   Leading off today: The Mahopac school district has suspended three students and may discipline others for racist tweets aimed at Mount Vernon basketball players and their fans after Mahopac's 43-40 loss to the Knights in the Section 1 semifinals last week, The Journal News reported Thursday.

   "We're still investigating. We need evidence. We take the allegation very seriously," Mahopac Superintendent Thomas Manko said.

   The paper reported Mount Vernon Superintendent Judith Johnson fired off a letter Tuesday to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Education Commissioner John King regarding the events of Feb. 27 at Westchester County Center. In it, Johnson alleges Mount Vernon players were "verbally attacked and subjected to racial taunts of an abhorrent nature" by Mahopac players and spectators.

   Johnson said she wanted Mahopac's varsity team to be hit with a one-year ban, a request Manko called "excessive." Further, Manko called for Johnson to investigate Mount Vernon fan behavior, including an incident in which a Mahopac cheerleader was allegedly struck on the head after the game. The cheerleader was not injured.

   The paper reported Manko was encouraging coaches and some members of both teams to sit down for lunch to get to know one another better, an idea that Mount Vernon coach and AD Bob Cimmino lambasted.

   "I'm not interested in that at all," he told the paper. "These might be criminal acts. If someone does something to me, I'm not interested in sitting down and singing religious songs with them."

   Mount Vernon Mayor Ernest Davis called the incident, "A bodacious outpouring of insults hurled at our future generation."

   Mahopac officials did not disclose specifics of the suspensions of students who confessed to making racially charged tweets.

   "It's a learning moment and we're going to be giving our students sensitivity training so they understand what the words mean and why they can't use them anymore," Manko told WNYW-TV.

   On Wednesday, Mount Vernon advanced to the NYSPHSAA Class AA quarterfinals with a 66-48 win over Newburgh Free Academy.

   A new strategy: Late last year, I highlighted a piece written by Joe Werkmeister of the Riverhead News-Review to detail the dysfunctionality of the Shoreham-Wading River school district's officials with respect to hiring and retaining (more accurately: not retaining) athletic directors over the years.

   Werkmeister returned a couple of weeks ago with another illuminating piece of reporting, this time about Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School in Riverhead.

   Similar to many other private schools across the state, McGann-Mercy is feeling the enrollment pinch brought on by several factors, not the least of which is the cost of private-school tuition. To their credit, school administrators have developed a strategy intended to help boost enrollment by at least 15 percent in the next two years.

   That strategy -- upgrading the school's sports programs to attract more students, whose tuition dollars might then fund hiring more teachers and expanding academic offerings -- is where Werkmeister's story picks up.

   Principal Carl Semmler and new AD Paul Mastronardi, a full-time New York City firefighter who most recently coached football at Eastport-South Manor, unveiled the

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plan to parents of Monarchs football players last month in a two-hour meeting, and the first surprise to emerge is that Jeff Doroski -- a longtime coach at various levels who graduated from Mercy in 1992 -- will keep his job as a physical education teacher but be replaced as the football coach.

   Also last month, baseball coach Ed Meier, a 1999 Mercy grad, resigned, citing personal reasons when contacted by the paper.

   Dorski said he understood that a regime change sometimes brings a change in the vision and direction for the school. However, seeing him pushed aside -- Mastronardi has said he is intent on hiring college-quality coaches -- does not sit well with some families at the school, where Dorski's 2012 Monarchs matched their highest single-season win total (7) since 1978. The Monarchs also won their first playoff game since 1991, Doroski was a player on the team.

   "While I may not necessarily agree with that vision or direction, I understand it as a professional," he told the paper. "I'm obviously disappointed. But I have to be willing to accept what they're trying to do and move forward from a personal standpoint and a professional standpoint."

   Some of the additional school strategy for growth is to operate a series of sports camps, again with the idea of attracting the attention of youngsters who might like what they see and enroll in the school down the road.

   Quick thought: The McGann-Mercy strategy will be closely watched for a number of reasons in coming months and years.

   Any strategy that helps keep the private school on solid financial ground is good for the community on several fronts. At the same time, athletics cannot be the foundation of any school's success; without sound academics and a solid support system for students, a school building isn't much more than a warehouse for teens for 35 hours a week.

   The reason I mention this at all is because I can think of at least one small private school upstate that's in worse financial shape than casual observers realize. A couple of reliable sources update me from time to time with developments at that school, and the latest news late last month all but confirmed that some school officials have misplaced their moral compass.

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