Former Weston High School head boys varsity basketball coach Mike Hvizdo is seeking reinstatement to his former position.
“I’ve always wanted my job back from day one,” said Mr. Hvizdo on Monday. “That’s always been the goal.” Beyond that, however, he declined to comment at this time.
Mr. Hvizdo, who became coach in 2011, stepped down after school officials discovered that he had taken part in a short video in 2003 that they deemed “inappropriate for a leader of kids.” He has since been succeeded by former assistant varsity and head JV coach Jamaal Gibbs.
According to a letter by school administrators, the video is reportedly sexually explicit and contains vulgar language, although there is no nudity. It does not involve any illegal activity.
Superintendent Colleen Palmer, Principal Lisa Wolak, Athletic Director Mark Berkowitz, and Human Resources Director Lewis Brey met with Mr. Hvizdo on Feb. 7. After discussing the matter it was decided that it was best for Mr. Hvizdo to step down. He announced his decision to the team later that day.
Mr. Hvizdo has repeatedly declined to comment further on the matter, but he said Monday he does plan to release a formal statement within the next few days — something he also said last week.
A letter to basketball players and parents by Ms. Wolak and Mr. Berkowitz dated Feb. 10 explained that it became known to the school community that the film was posted online and “its existence compromises Mr. Hvizdo’s ability to continue to serve as a coach with Weston High School.”
Many within the community, including most Weston basketball parents and players, are upset with not only Mr. Hvizdo’s departure but with how the administration handled the situation.
Approximately 100 people attended the Weston Board of Education’s monthly meeting on Monday, Feb. 25, in the middle school library.
Addressing the crowd, Dr. Palmer explained that Mr. Hvizdo had been serving in his second year of “probationary employment” as a coach. From time to time the service of a coach is severed during the season, she said.
It was during this probationary period that the video in question surfaced. It was viewed by her, Ms. Wolak, Mr. Berkowitz and Mr. Brey.
“The film is sexually explicit, contains vulgarities and demeans certain groups,” she said.
Dr. Palmer added that Mr. Hvizdo said he was embarrassed and apologized for having them sit through the film. He was offered the option to leave his position voluntarily before the district took action, which he accepted.
Since then, he expressed that he did not resign, she said. But on Tuesday, Dr. Palmer reiterated that Mr. Hvizdo was not fired.
“The video was part of a larger consideration of performance that resulted in the district’s decision to request the coach’s resignation,” Dr. Palmer said Tuesday.
Chairman Phil Schaefer, himself a member of the Screen Actors Guild, said that the board could not comment publicly on the matter because it involves personnel.
However, a number of people from the audience voiced their opinions.
More than a dozen spoke during a 90-minute public comment session. Some questioned how the situation was handled. Others spoke about the content of the video in question. All spoke in favor of Mr. Hvizdo.
Phil Hover noted that the video, despite containing vulgar speech, involved no nudity. He also felt it had nothing to do with Mr. Hvizdo’s ability to coach basketball.
“I have great respect for the board and believe this is a miscarriage of justice,” said Mr. Hover, whose son plays eighth grade travel basketball. “Coach Hvizdo should be reinstated.”
Kay Spencer also appealed to the board to give Mr. Hvizdo his job back. She said the time between when the video surfaced and the decision to have Mr. Hvizdo resign was only a matter of hours.
“The process and situation was bullying,” she said. “Dismissing him with four games left was unnecessary and traumatizing to players.”
Keith Watanabe felt that unless the matter was put to rest at the meeting it would not end that night. Although the board had been left in a really bad spot it had the opportunity to correct it, namely reinstating Mr. Hvizdo, he said.
“The administration has single-handedly decided that it is the morality police since clearly they do not believe we can police our own children in this manner,” said Terry Clevenger, whose son plays eighth grade basketball. “As a community steeped in artistic heritage with a rich history in expression of art, as well as home to many actors, producers and directors, Weston should be further away from this type of repression.”
Don Chase noted the administration’s decision could adversely affect Weston’s ability to attract future coaches.
“It’s a very slippery slope,” said Mr. Chase, president of the Fairfield County Basketball League. “One mistake and that’s it. That’s a terrible message.”
Several members of this year’s boys basketball team also attended the meeting. Two spoke in support of Mr. Hvizdo.
“Only people in the gym with us could see how upset he was,” said sophomore Matt Gurman. “Regardless of what he did, he is a much better role model to us than anyone at this table.”
Said senior and varsity basketball captain Charlie DiPasquale, “I don’t believe his ability to coach was compromised. I think he deserves to be reinstated as our coach.”
Joe Galvin, who had two children go through the Weston school system and play basketball, asked the board to consider the players on the team. He felt they were the ones who lost in this case.
“I don’t understand how, in a matter of hours, how a man was thrown out like an old shoe,” said Laura Watanabe, an attorney. “This was not right. The parents weren’t questioned. The students weren’t questioned. There was no investigation.”
Like those who spoke previously, Ms. Watanabe asked the board to get Mr. Hvizdo back. She also asked it to ensure a situation such as this did not happen again.
Keith Werwin of Norwalk told the board he has known Mr. Hvizdo since he was born.
“Michael loved the kids on the Weston team,” he said. “We all make mistakes in life. Is it fair to hold the mistakes against us for the rest of our lives? I think not.”
The board took no action on the matter.
At the end of public comments, Mr. Schaefer said the board would process the comments and move forward.
On Tuesday, Superintendent Palmer said after hearing from the public, she does think the district could have done a better job providing more detailed information on the day of separation.
“There was valid criticism made about our communication on this matter. It is something we are looking at and are taking to heart,” she said.