Students back Coach Molloy as Thornton sticks with dismissal decision

Students back Coach Molloy as Thornton sticks with dismissal decision

Several signs made by some of Vanessa Molloy’s athletes and Cumberland High alumni hang on the overpass on Mendon Road by the high school, showing their support for the cross country/track and field head coach.

CUMBERLAND – Supporters of Vanessa Molloy say they believe she lost her job because she’s sometimes difficult to work with and often speaks her mind, hardly good reasons, they contend, for one of the best coaches Cumberland has ever seen to lose the job.

Supt. Phil Thornton, the sole person responsible for deciding whether to affirm former Supt. Bob Mitchell’s pre-retirement axing of Molloy as head coach of girls’ cross country and track and field teams at Cumberland High School, decided after investigating the situation not to reverse Mitchell's decision. Asked this week if Molloy might one day be reinstated to the position, he didn’t respond.

A steady stream of Molloy’s current and former athletes, as well as several parents, spoke in support of a coach they said never stopped showing that she cared, investing in students’ physical and mental health while empowering athletes on her teams to get the best out of themselves even if they weren’t gifted with a lot of natural talent.

Former School Committee member Amy Goggin, a parent of one of Molloy’s athletes, was among those most critical of the decision, saying the committee, though it had no authority over whether Molloy stayed and couldn’t publicly comment on the personnel matter, is now faced with an issue of “public perception” that school officials put the interests of adults ahead of children. They’ve told female student-athletes that it’s not OK to question authority, to question decisions, or to ask for reasons. It’s clear from this situation, she said, that “adults are much more fragile than our teenagers.”

Goggin said anyone who knows anything about some other coaches at Cumberland High School knows it’s clear that Molloy is being held to a different standard than others. If there really were complaints about her going years back, said Goggin, why weren’t they addressed at the time? Why now? Who put on the pressure to have her removed from the position?

Goggin later explained to The Breeze that she’s spoken with many people in the district about this situation and it became abundantly obvious that the crux of issues with Molloy related to her not holding back with her opinions and the fact that she questions things when others are around. The word “difficult” was the most common word used about the reasons for not renewing her as coach, said Goggin, affirming a word Molloy also used to explain her firing, but why would that be a reason to remove her from a position she was so effective in? Why not work with her on corrective measures?

“I don’t know what I’m missing,” Goggin said.

School Committee member Denis Collins said he also disagreed with the removal of Molloy after hearing an update on the situation from Thornton, though he thanked Thornton for the thoroughness of his review on a matter he “inherited.” While this was entirely Thornton’s decision, said Collins, “I think he came to the wrong decision.”

The Cumberland Teachers' Association issued a statement this week in support of Molloy: "The CTA wishes to express its extreme disappointment in the decision by the superintendent to fire Vanessa Molloy from her coaching position at Cumberland High School. It is not the message we expected the incoming superintendent to send to the community he now serves. It most certainly is not in the best interest of the student athletes."

Thornton told The Breeze he “spoke to a lot of individuals” in coming to his decision. He gave no further comment beyond a two-sentence statement, saying he can't comment on a personnel matter.

“I have reviewed the matter. Based on my review, I could not find justification to change or modify Mr. Mitchell’s decision,” he said.

In addition to Goggin, several parents and students suggested that Molloy losing her coaching job was the result of other adults not liking her approach with them, but they said that was no justification for what happened to her.

Molloy, in a written statement after learning last Thursday that she wouldn’t be reinstated to the position, said it was “with immeasurable disappointment” that she learned her appeal to be reinstated was denied. She thanked all of those who supported her.

“The thoughtful words offered have meant more than you can ever know, I am so very thankful,” wrote Molloy, who had previously said she was blindsided by the decision to remove her as coach while keeping her as a teacher at CHS.

“For over 13 years I have remained steadfast in my commitment to my teams, always striving to help young women achieve their best and highest potential no matter the final outcome of the race,” she said. “I have made it a point to put the needs of my team first. To that end, I have attempted to avoid political and systemic pressures while remaining fully committed to the young women I had the privilege to coach.

“Integrity is something I value and have attempted to instill in my teams, year after year,” she added. “I have done my best to consistently be a strong role model for young women who so often are not given enough chances to have their voices heard.”

Molloy said she thinks it’s important to state for the record that her removal from coaching was not related to her job performance.

“In the very meeting where I was fired from my job, it was stated that my commitment to my teams is impressive, and that my record, as it related to student performances, speaks to the high quality of coaching I have provided to my athletes,” she said. “It has become very clear in these last few weeks that the reason for my removal is directly related to my commitment to fairness for female athletes, which has been labeled as being ‘difficult.’ It is rather ironic in this day, when we are working so hard to give females, especially young females, an equal platform for their voices, that mine is being silenced. I am devastated to not be coaching my athletes, but it is really the female runners of Cumberland High School who lose out the most in this decision.”

She said it’s been a pleasure to work with many terrific people along the way, including fantastic coaches in the larger running community.

“Thank you to all the wonderful young women who stuck it out with me no matter the obstacles we faced,” she said. “Please know that I hold dear the lessons we have learned together during each and every interaction, run, workout and race. You are always in my heart and I wish you the best in this world as you forge your path.”

Members of Molloy’s teams said during last Thursday’s school board meeting that just as she’s supported them over the years, they’re now supporting her.

Grace Henson, Molloy’s former student-athlete who started a petition that gained more than 1,000 signatures seeking her reinstatement, spoke of a coach who helped her through mental health challenges and stuck with her even when she showed little potential. She said Molloy has been to several of her college meets, and the work she did in helping her take care of her body during high school has helped her exceed expectations at the college level. Cumberland will never find another coach like Molloy, she said, adding that it’s a shame to see her go over “miniscule things.”

Adah Anderson said Molloy went above and beyond in everything, doing in-depth research on her chronic condition to help her. She was an advocate for everyone, especially her athletes, said Anderson, fighting for what was right and not just complying with the “unfair and stereotypical status quo.” She said Molloy's athletes will not be silent about losing “truly the coach of a lifetime.”

Others described her as a selfless role model, a friend, a mother, and someone who taught students to be good citizens on a local and global scale.

Mother Sandi Pickering said Molloy was a “no-cut coach” who pushed all students to their fullest potential, believing in her daughter and others and investing her personal time in them. She said Molloy saved her daughter.

Parent Will Enestvedt said no children or parents have had anything negative to say about Molloy, so the issues with her had to have come from another adult.


Welcome back to Cumberland Superintendent Thornton...any chance you'd like to resign? It would be accepted...probably unanously!

Tom Letourneau

If the taxpayers of Cumberland want the coach to stay, you would think the Town Council and Administrator would make it happen. Someone needs to go and I say its not Coach Molloy. It's the people responsible for putting the Superintendent in power. Once they're removed, you can remove the Supt. Make it happen!

We've heard from the coach, parents and the athletes. We know where they stand and what their opinions are, but we don't yet know what precipitated the firing. Likely we'll never know as personnel decisions are tricky; if too much information is released, the coach could sue. I hazard to guess that the coach was fired for insubordination, but that's just a guess. If the coach allowed her personnel file to be made public, we may be able to make an informed decision, but until then I'll reserve judgment.