The resignation of Mike Hvizdo as Weston High School’s head boys varsity basketball coach has caused a bit of a stir in the town’s athletic community.
Mr. Hvizdo, who became head coach in 2011, stepped down two weeks ago after it was discovered he had taken part in a short video in 2003 that school officials deemed as “inappropriate for a leader of kids.” He has since been replaced by assistant varsity and head JV coach Jamaal Gibbs.
Athletic Director Mark Berkowitz, Superintendent Colleen Palmer, Principal Lisa Wolak and Human Resources Director Lewis Brey met with Mr. Hvizdo on Feb. 7 about the situation. After discussing the matter, they decided it was best for Mr. Hvizdo to step down. Later that day, he announced to his team that he was resigning for personal reasons.
A letter by Mr. Berkowitz and Ms. Wolak to basketball players and parents, dated Feb. 10, mentioned the existence of the film, a nine-minute comedy short that appeared online. Mr. Berkowitz stressed the film involves “no illegal activity.”
Mr. Berkowitz and Ms. Wolak said in the letter that the existence of the video “became known” to the school community. A general consensus among the school basketball community was that a parent brought the issue to the school’s attention.
“Unfortunately, material posted on the Internet takes on a life of its own, and there is no way to guarantee that this video will not be viewed by our entire community and most importantly, by our student athletes, now and into the future,” wrote Mr. Berkowitz and Ms. Wolak. “We know that the film has already been viewed by some in our community.”
The letter continued, “The existence of this film compromises Mr. Hvizdo’s ability to continue to serve as a coach with Weston High School. Current and future athletes are influenced by the actions and words of our coaches — both formally and informally. Our role as educators is to ensure a psychologically-safe and emotionally-healthy environment for our students at all times; it is our legal and ethical responsibility. Unfortunately, this goal can no longer be achieved with the continuation of Mr. Hvizdo as our varsity basketball coach.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Hvizdo said he plans to release a formal statement, but had no comment at this time.
Some parents, however, are not happy with how the administration handled the situation. About 50 attended a nearly three-hour meeting with school administrators on Feb. 11 to get an explanation and to voice their concerns. All the parents, including Jess and Andrea DiPasquale, said they supported Mr. Hvizdo.
“He is an excellent coach,” said Mr. DiPasquale, whose son Charlie is the lone senior on the team. “He was an excellent leader. He was a good motivator for the team.”
Mr. DiPasquale referred to the video, titled “Forbidden Fruit,” as a “comedy with a raunchy theme” that was not pornographic and contained no nudity.
He, as well as other parents, did not agree with the administration’s position that the film would compromise Mr. Hvizdo’s ability to lead the players. They also felt their viewpoint was not taken into consideration and any actions taken could have waited until after the season was completed.
“He [Mr. Hvizdo] did not feel he was not able to coach effectively,” said Ms. DiPasquale. “That’s not the case at all.”
Although her son graduated from Weston High last year, Vivian Simons still attends games to take photographs. She recalled how much Mr. Hvizdo cared about his players.
“If the kids needed to go visit grandma, study for an important test, or go on a college visit, he would not give them a hard time,” she said. “I have to say that last year when he spoke about all the senior basketball players at the end of the year banquet, it was so obvious what a great guy he is and how much he cares about each player. I felt that the kids were so very lucky to have him as a coach and mentor.”
According to Jonathan Bombart, who also has a son on the team, Mr. Hvizdo’s dedication to the team carried over well into the off-season. Many players took part in summer basketball leagues and Mr. Hvizdo would often watch these games.
“He was really good for the kids,” said Mr. Bombart. “He taught them great life lessons. The kids loved him.”
Mr. Hvizdo would also offer his coaching talents outside of the high school team. He and head girls varsity coach Dan Rosen ran a clinic for coaches in Weston’s youth basketball program.
“Coach Hvizdo is very supportive of our efforts,” said David Levy, whose son plays youth basketball in town. “He definitely has his heart in the right place.”
Despite having to deal with the resignation of its coach, the varsity team has still managed to move forward, winning two of its last three games. A 57-51 victory over Newtown on Feb. 7, played only hours after their coach announced his resignation, qualified the Trojans for a spot in the state Class M tournament for the second straight year.
“Every day he was so dedicated to our team,” said Charlie DiPasquale, one of the team captains. “He was happy to come out and coach us. He cared about us as people.”
While the players miss their former coach, they know they are at a critical point of their season. With one more game left to play, Weston still has a shot at qualifying for a spot in the South-West Conference playoffs for the second straight year as well.
“I’ve been trying to keep the team focused and motivated,” said Charlie. “All the players respect and support coach Hvizdo. We believe he should be reinstated.”