By Dylan Butler
The city Department of Education has launched an investigation into Bayside boys’ varsity basketball coach Chris Matesic amid allegations the first-year coach verbally and mentally abused players on his team, the TimesLedger has learned.
Department of Education investigator Robert Small interviewed every member of the varsity basketball team at the school March 2 and according to several players on the team, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Small asked them if they had ever witnessed or were victims of verbal or physical abuse by Matesic, a 29-year-old yoga instructor.
Department of Education spokesman Paul Rose confirmed that an investigation was underway but could not elaborate on it.
“A lot of times I thought it was maybe he was just being a coach, but he takes things to the extreme. He’s not a regular coach. It’s a personal thing with him,” one player on the team said. “He’s hurting people in the way he’s acting. Not physically but mentally he messed a lot of people up.”
The players also said Small asked about their involvement in the Landmark Forum, an educational workshop in Midtown Manhattan whose mission is to make teens more responsible for their lives. Several players criticized Matesic for making attendance at the Landmark Forum’s introductory seminar mandatory.
“He made it where you had to go,” one player said. “He didn’t make it where it was an option.”
Two players on the team completed the 12-week course — at the cost of $400 each — and were allegedly driven there by Matesic each time, a player said.
When reached on his cell phone Friday night, Matesic declined to comment on the investigation, saying “our communication is complete.”
Bayside High School Principal Judith Tarlo issued a “no comment ” via e-mail and Athletic Director Jim Mattel did not return several calls from the TimesLedger.
Several players said Matesic’s demeanor changed as soon as he took over as varsity coach.
After coaching the junior varsity girls’ basketball team, Matesic, a former player at Westchester Community College and Hunter College, was 31-3 in two seasons as the boys’ junior varsity coach before taking over for Joe Capuana, who also coaches the school’s varsity football team.
This season Bayside finished 21-9 and lost to Boys & Girls in the Sweet 16 of the PSAL Class A playoffs.
“He talked to every kid’s family. It seemed like one week after another he would go to someone’s house and tell them how great your son’s going to be this year, about how he’s going to start and be captain,” one player said. “On the first day of practice I knew this guy was completely different from the guy I knew over the summer. It was like he didn’t even know who I was.”
According to several players on the team, Matesic’s alleged abuse involved belittling and cursing players on the team. And shortly before playing in the championship game of the Big Apple Classic at Baruch College in late November, several players said Matesic made them surround a player on the team and critique his game.
“Instead of putting him down and singling him out and making the whole team comment about how bad he is,” one player said, “he could have just told him his faults and what not to do and what to do as the coach.”
“He tells them they are losers, that they’re not going to get anywhere,” said Gil Bravo, whose son Michael is a senior on the team. “He was degrading my son, telling him he was no good. … I don’t want this to happen to other kids.”
In an interview with the TimesLedger Feb. 13, moments after a second-round playoff win over Canarsie, Matesic said getting his team to buy into his coaching system was difficult.
“The whole year has been a struggle to acculturate the community into my philosophy,” he said. “I think any coach worth his salt has a philosophy and he has to go with what’s in his heart, and I feel that it’s now that we see the fruits of all our labor.”
But that’s not the case, according to one player on the team.
“He always talks about being true to self, about trying to be a champion,” a player said, “yet he always tries to manipulate us to being something we’re not.”
In addition to the Department of Education investigation, Matesic is also facing allegations he attempted to recruit Wes Frederique, a 6-foot sophomore guard who was the leading scorer on the Bishop Loughlin freshman team last year, the boy’s father told the TimesLedger.
Frederique transferred from Loughlin to Cardozo in January.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.