Joe Votino wasn't supposed to go out this way.
As soon as he led the Kennedy Christian High boys basketball team to its fourth straight Class A state title in March -- tying the Pennsylvania record -- Votino and Golden Eagles fans looked ahead to the prospects of the following season, just as they had done amid past gold medals at Hersheypark Arena.
But the drive for No. 5 has stalled completely.
Tenure ends: In a bitter and confusing end to Votino's storied 19-year career, Kennedy Christian made the decision to fire its coach following meetings between lawyers and administrators last Thursday.
The school's release, which was made as simple as possible, appeared at area media outlets the following day announcing the firing. On Saturday, the stories appeared but contained little detail.
Fans were left to wonder how everything at Kennedy Christian suddenly had come crashing down.
The school made it clear that it wasn't going to attempt an explanation for its actions, a decision that we continue to question.
Votino, 43, has spoken in the past few weeks about the turmoil, but those words continue to remain off the record. He denied the many rumors and wanted to defend himself. Only, his silence -- and that of Kennedy Christian's -- appears to be the method of choice to the unfortunate ending of this basketball story.
Career begins: A native of Brookfield and a former Youngstown State basketball player, Votino became known for his intense style and sideline animation at Kennedy Christian.
As dean of students, he carried that style into the school's halls and had the responsibility of disciplining disorderly students.
His teams continued to win. In totaling a 429-130 career record, Votino led the Golden Eagles to six state titles, including gold medals in the past four years, a feat that tied Carlisle's mark from 1985-88.
"If you would have asked me 20 years ago if we'd win one state title, I would have laughed at you," Votino said earlier this week. "I never anticipated what we accomplished."
Votino was confident that his team could win its fifth straight title and set the Pennsylvania record. With returning talent that includes seniors Nolan Reimold and Dan McElhinny, that wasn't hard to fathom.
"The reason we've been so successful is that we've been able to get kids to make a serious commitment to basketball -- not only in-season, but more importantly in the off-season," said Votino, who disputed critics' views that he recruited his players, adding, "Can you imagine I'd promise someone they'd play?"
Doubled the fun: To outsiders, everything was fine at Kennedy Christian. Not only did Votino's boys team win again, the Golden Eagles girls team won its first state title, giving the school a basketball sweep and the Rev. Rick Tomasone a going-away present.
After 16 years as coach, Tomasone has been reassigned in the diocese and won't return to patrol the sidelines.
But things on the inside were apparently gloomy for Votino, as he was fighting a battle that seemed difficult to win.
Will we ever know why? Not unless those involved are willing to come forth and explain themselves.
There weren't many factors that could knock Votino off his path to on-court glory -- certainly not state championship-game opponents Fairfield, Bishop Hannan (twice) and Reading Holy Name in the last four years.
Sadly, it took off-the-court matters to dethrone Votino and ruin the remarkable run his team was in the process of making.
XBrian Richesson covers high school sports for The Vindicator. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.