Volunteer coaches: We had no involvement in fundraisers

Volunteer coaches: We had no involvement in fundraisers

LINCOLN – Former volunteer coaches of the Lincoln High School varsity baseball team are clarifying that they had no involvement in the fundraisers now part of the ongoing investigation into Andrew Hallam’s alleged embezzlement of fundraiser money, but at least one of the volunteers, it was confirmed, received payment for volunteer work, which goes against policy.

Matthew Netto, pictured on left, and Dale O’Dell, who coach Lincoln Little League and previously volunteered as coaches for the LHS varsity team, stated they did not receive any money from the fundraisers, nor were they involved in any meetings regarding the fundraiser campaigns.

O'Dell confirmed he had received a small sum from what Hallam told him was his coaching salary. At the time, O'Dell explained, he and Netto knew nothing about Hallam allegedly embezzling money from the fundraisers.

“He gave me money supposedly from his own coaching check, because I had filled in for him a few times,” O'Dell said.

John Picozzi of the board confirmed O'Dell had received compensation, and said over the course of about three years, the volunteer was given about $1,000 each year, though volunteers are not allowed to receive payments in Lincoln's athletic policy.

When asked by school officials about payment for volunteer services, O'Dell confirmed Hallam had given him some money for several games he covered when Hallam was not able to be there. O'Dell said he didn't realize there was an issue with accepting some payment from Hallam's coaching check, and said this is something many districts do.

In a letter addressed to the School Committee on May 30, Netto said he informed Principal Kevin McNamara and Charlotte Tavares, who served as administrative liaison, during a meeting in May that he had not been paid in the two years he’d served as a volunteer coach.

Netto told the School Committee he signed and dated a written statement he provided to McNamara and Tavares, and said, “In that statement, I denied receiving any money while serving as a volunteer coach. I also wrote down all the information that I knew pertaining to that fundraising meeting in late March.”

“I am a proud (alumnus) of LHS and its wonderful baseball program. I take great pride in working to teach life lessons to our youth through the great game of baseball,” Netto said in the letter, adding that his purpose for sending the correspondence to the School Committee was to clear his name from any potential violations.

Asked if he had a similar statement he wanted to make, or letter he had sent to school officials, O’Dell said both he and Netto had nothing to do with fundraising.

“I’m smart enough to realize that I don’t want to touch any money,” O’Dell said, explaining that he has been coaching since 1984 in several capacities including high school, Little League and college teams.

After Hallam was placed on leave, O’Dell said, he was helping run the varsity team, though he wasn’t a paid assistant.

O’Dell said there “has to be a money trail,” and said the investigation will have to determine where the money was going.

He said it was just two hours before the last regular game of the season when he received a call from McNamara stating he and Netto were being let go from their volunteer coaching positions. O’Dell said the junior varsity coach and athletic director coached that game, and the remainder of the games that season in the playoffs.

O’Dell said school officials “basically took us out of the equation to eliminate us from any suspicion” and find out the whole story, adding that both he and Netto were later cleared by State Police.

He said he was sure the School Department was told by Rhode Island State Police that the coaches involved in the baseball program needed to be let go, but said the worst part about that situation is the coaches “really don’t know what transpired” out of that investigation.

He said he understood the School Department had to eliminate any variable with the baseball program, but said he has a “spotless record,” and cited success coaching the sport for 33 years.

“This is not how I wanted to get some time off,” O’Dell told The Breeze.

Netto said he also understood the School Committee and school administration had to do their “due diligence” for the investigation, and understood why they felt they had to “remove all parties” and figure out what is going on.

Asked about O’Dell’s response to the allegations about volunteers being paid, Netto said he didn’t know what O’Dell’s written statement included, “as far as one (volunteer coach) did (get paid) and one didn’t,” but said what happened was a “very unfortunate situation all around.”

School Committee Chairwoman Kristine Donabedian and member Picozzi both confirmed that the volunteer coaches were let go around Memorial Day weekend after it was discovered athletic policy was not followed.

“It’s plain and simple,” Picozzi said of the policy.

Once Hallam was placed on leave near the end of the season, Netto and O’Dell explained, they stepped up to lead the team. O’Dell noted that the team went on to win four games, but then lost two straight games in the playoffs after he and Netto were let go.

“We’re actually the ones that held things together when things weren’t going well,” O’Dell said.

He said the timing of their firings was particularly bad, given that the student athletes had already lost their head coach toward the end of the season.

“It was tough on the kids and their parents,” he said.

“I never in a million years would’ve thought this would happen. … We coach baseball because we love it,” O’Dell said.

"You give up all these hours, for nothing, and this is what you get," O'Dell said.

When Netto heard the news that he was no longer able to coach the team, he said, “I was heartbroken.”

He said the student athletes had already experienced several changes with coaches, and he did not wish to be reinstated as a volunteer coach, as he did not want to “complicate their experience any more than it already is.”

He and O’Dell said they wish the team luck going forward, and are hopeful a great leader will coach them for the upcoming season.

Comments

I have nothing personal against the three people who were involved directly or indirectly in the decline and embarrassment of our Baseball Program. Some things are just not true.

The RISP did not instruct or advise the School Department that the Volunteer Coaches should be let go or needed to be let go. That is not their job. Once it was determined that School Policy was violated along with all of the other inadequacies with Program, I was the one who talked with Chair Kristine Donabedian and we both agreed it would be prudent to let both Volunteer Coaches go. That message was delivered to the Superintendent. I saw the opening and acted on it. Keep in mind, it was both Volunteers, because the wrong message that two Volunteer Coaches were paid was brought to our attention which was later clarified it was only one. This decision was made to uphold integrity of our School Department, Athletic Programs, and Community as a whole. To say that it was to keep them from suspicion is completely false and misleading. Additionally, it was brought to my attention that O’Dell inserted himself as Acting Head Coach. We pay an Assistant Coach to act in this role and that is what should have happened.

If we are teaching our Athletes that the most important thing in life is winning at sports, then School Department Administration has to really take a closer look at who we are allowing to Coach and/or be around our Athletes. Winning is great, too much winning creates self-entitlement, laziness, complacency, and many other attributes that can be very dangerous for Children as they grow. There is no I in team.

John, I don't question your motives, but I am concerned that a single member of the School Committee would insert himself into the Coaching of the Baseball Team.
What concerns me even more is that you and Chairperson Donabedian would decide to deliver a message to the Superintendent.
The School Committee should not be acting this way. I have been there, and seen it when I was on the School Committee and it doesn't usually end well for anyone.

I have good intent, 100% unbiased, and acted within my duties as School Committee Member and Leader of our Community.

I wouldn’t be concerned John, this was an unprecedented situation. If anyone has followed the mess that started with Basketball, they would see the reasoning. All of the information came to me and I followed Chain of Command. I made a bad situation better and took the questionable elements away immediately.

I want you to be confident, unlike some folks, especially those that were former Politicians here, I won’t let my relationships and friendships I formed the last 47 years cause my decision making to be cloudy. Kind of like the Lonsdale Fire Department going broke and those who had direct knowledge of what was going on didn’t do anything about it and told others that knew to stay away. I’m not sure if you remember that.