Two-time Eagles leader:
Dismissal over language
By Steve Ruman
The ever-changing landscape of Warren John F. Kennedy High athletics will receive yet another makeover — this time with the boys basketball program.
A news release issued Wednesday by the Diocese of Youngstown announced that Shawn Pompelia will not be offered a contract for the 2014-15 season. The statement cited “differences in coaching philosophy” as the reason Pompelia will not be retained.
Pompelia served as the Eagles’ coach since 2010. He previously held the same position for three years before he was released by the school in 2007.
Citing “privacy rights,” diocese assistant superintendent Randy Rair would not elaborate on the decision not to renew Pompelia’s contract.
“I don’t want to sound evasive, but I can’t be specific at this time,” Rair said. “We just felt that it was best for both parties — for Shawn and the school — to go in a different direction.”
Pompelia said the decision was based on a complaint from a parent to school administrators that he swore during a practice session.
“A parent addressed the school pertaining to language I used during a particular practice,” Pompelia said. “We as a staff constantly try to instill family values. Sometimes, that involves tough love and unpopular decisions. Did I maybe push the envelope a bit too far? Yes. But there is no denying the love and respect I have for each and every one of my players, both on and off the court.”
The team was informed of Pompelia’s dismissal Wednesday by JFK president Brian Sinchak.
“It was upsetting that I couldn’t address the team,” Pompelia said. “I don’t want them to think I turned my back on them.”
Pompelia’s firing marks the eighth head coaching change at Kennedy within the last 12 months. In addition to changes in girls basketball, track, football, volleyball, soccer, softball and tennis, JFK recently dismissed Vince Lyons, who was hired as assistant to the president for athletic development at the start of the 2013-14 school year.
“The turnover is disturbing,” Pompelia said. “Kennedy has always had a proud sports tradition, which included a great deal of consistency within the programs. There is no denying a lack of continuity at this point, and that hurts everyone involved.
“As a Kennedy graduate, I love the school and I want to see it succeed.”
Regina Rebhan Mitchell, whose son Alec Pontikos is a junior on the JFK roster, said she was “saddened, shocked and disturbed” to learn of Pompelia’s dismissal.
“Under Coach Pompelia, Alec’s grades, confidence and basketball have all improved,” Mitchell said. “Coach Pompelia is more than a coach. He is a mentor who prepares these kids for life, and he does a wonderful job at it.
“I completely trust my son with Coach Pompelia, and I know that nearly every other parent will tell you the same thing. To see him fired because he is trying to instill the value of discipline and unity is very disheartening.”
Mitchell said she was also disturbed at a lack of cooperation from the school and diocese.
“I sent two emails asking to explain the situation, and both emails were returned saying, ‘We can’t discuss the matter because of privacy issues,’” Mitchell said. “I just want answers. If I can’t get a response as a parent, who can?
“It’s just a shame that one or two people who want to monitor every move in their son’s life and who don’t want to allow him to be prepared for the real world can force the diocese to make such a poor decision.”
Dominic Naples, a 2013 JFK graduate who played for Pompelia, called his former coach “the ultimate father figure” and said he attempted to reach out to the school principal and president to express his dissatisfaction.
“I wish the administrators would talk to his former and current players,” Naples said. “I learned more about life from Coach Pompelia than I did from anyone else at Kennedy. I learned about trust, dedication and family values. I thought that’s what a Catholic school wanted from its students and athletes.”
Naples recalled being benched by Pompelia as a sophomore, “because I thought I was top-notch.” Though upset at the time, Naples said the incident changed the rest of his high school career.
“I improved my attitude and work ethic ten-fold, and that changed the way I approached school work and athletics,” Naples said. “Shawn cares more about people than he does wins and losses.”
When Pompelia arrived at JFK in September of 2010, the basketball team’s roster included 14 players in grades nine through 12. Next year’s roster is expected to include 20 returning players, excluding the incoming freshmen.
“For the second time, we came in a built a strong foundation,” Pompelia said. “To not be able to see things through is extremely disappointing. It does not diminish the fact that I hope for the best for the players and new coach. I hope they succeed next year and in life.
“When you walk into JFK, there is a sign that reads ‘We are Kennedy, we are family.’ JFK will always be my family, but right now I am quite disappointed in how I was treated and with how things were handled.”