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The Butler Did It: Net loss for Francis Lewis

By Dylan Butler

“Nobody in the PSAL has his volleyball expertise,” said Merlin Thompson, a longtime volleyball coach who runs Creole Big Apple, the largest club program in the city. “He's the best in the city, hands down.”Rosenbaum's credentials could land him a college job, but he's already been there, done that. The only job he wants, the same one that has made him one of the most successful coaches in the PSAL, is the one he can't have.Three months after helping lead his team to the PSAL Class A title, Rosenbaum is being forced out as girls' volleyball coach at Francis Lewis High School because of a literal interpretation of the United Federation of Teachers contract. It states that an eligible teacher must be given preference over an administrator when it comes to a coaching job. Rosenbaum teaches two physical education classes, but is the assistant principal for Health and Physical Education and is considered an administrator. And once he became an AP in 2000, Rosenbaum lost his retention rights for the position.That was the ruling of an arbitrator two weeks ago when Rosenbaum, Francis Lewis Principal Jeffrey Scherr and a union rep from the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators went up against Lou Volpato and a UFT rep. Who is Lou Volpato? He's the boys' volleyball coach at Francis Lewis, who filed a grievance against Rosenbaum in 2004, 2005 and 2006 in an attempt to become the girls' volleyball coach. “I should have filed one in 2007, too, but I just didn't,” Volpato saidDuring his nearly two decades at the school, Volpato has also coached girls' gymnastics and boys' bowling at Francis Lewis. Volpato's first grievance came just after Rosenbaum, who is also the school's athletic director, took away the boys' bowling job from him after the 2004 season because another qualified teacher applied.In addition to the girls' volleyball job, Volpato applied for the job of girls' swimming coach, which is currently occupied by Scherr, even though Volpato does have the proper certification. Scherr did not return a call for comment.”I'm not qualified to be the girls' swimming coach,” Volpato said. “I'm not a very good swimmer.”While Volpato didn't address why he applied, sources at Francis Lewis say Volpato did so out of spite, because he was angry he wasn't retained as the boys' bowling coach. Volpato, however, said his feelings have nothing to do with it. It's about integrity.”I'm not attempting to degrade Arnie's skills or abilities as a coach,” Volpato said. “His qualifications as a coach are beyond reproach. Unfortunately, his eligibility is in question. If a student-athlete is not academically eligible then, regardless of their athletic ability, they can't play. I relate that to this.”As part of the arbitration agreement, Volpato was awarded partial back pay for the three years of his grievance, thought to be about $6,000.”I really believed in my values,” Volpato said. “I really believed what I was doing was right and that I was wronged.”Volpato isn't the girls' volleyball coach. Not yet. The job opening hasn't been posted. But once it does, Volpato will apply. “Absolutely I will,” he said. Rosenbaum said he will also apply for the position, but wouldn't be eligible unless he steps down as assistant principal or athletic director, sustaining a substantial financial hit in the process. Scherr makes the final decision on hiring coaches.Unless another qualified teacher also applies, Volpato will be the coach next year, a decision that is as unpopular as it is controversial at the Fresh Meadows school. “Maybe it's politically right to do this,” said Jen Dortch, a senior setter on the girls' volleyball team. “But on the moral side, it's wrong to take away the position of someone who has done so much for the program, who has so much to give.”There are rumblings that some of the better underclassmen on the girls' volleyball team might refuse to play for Volpato. Some are considering transferring. “I can't speak for any of them, but I highly doubt any of them will come back if Mr. Rosenbaum is not the coach,” Dortch said.That's fine with Volpato.”You need six players on the court. Not those six, any six,” he said. “If the five or so star players don't want to play, there's 20 on JV who will.”With some coaching jobs paying about $4,000 per season, holding multiple positions could be extremely profitable. But Volpato vehemently denies he is just interested in coaching for the paycheck.”I enjoy being with the kids,” he said. “I don't need the money to tell you the truth.”Volpato also doesn't believe in coaching during vacations and weekends. “Vacation is called vacation for a reason. Saturday and Sundays are for kids to go out with friends and play,” he said. “I'm not a seven-day/25-hour-a week coach, but I have integrity issues with others who are.”Before arriving at Francis Lewis, Rosenbaum spent 10 years as a college volleyball coach, compiling an overall record of 206-164 at Manhattanville, Molloy College, Concordia, C.W. Post and Division I LaSalle, where he was named co-coach of the year in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in 1990. “We do things academically and athletically to benefit the student-athlete,” said Thompson, who has two nieces, Euginia Anthony and Chereese Sheen, on the Lewis girls' volleyball team. “If they take [Rosenbaum] away, it will hurt their development.””It doesn't help the kids. He should be coaching the volleyball team,” added Perry Dortch, a boys' basketball and handball coach at Lewis, whose daughter, Jen, played for Rosenbaum. “Everyone shouldn't have let it come to this. In four years, this could have been rectified.”Based on the letter of the law, Volpato is right. But is this a black and white issue? Technically, driving 56 mph is speeding and jaywalking is illegal. But police don't use literal interpretation to enforce these laws because it's just not practical. Rosenbaum has a teacher's license, but is an assistant principal and an athletic director. And yet, despite his impeccable coaching resœme, Rosenbaum is being punished because of a legal loophole, some bureaucratic red tape. “I just want to coach,” Rosenbaum said. “They're great kids, a great group of parents. It was so much fun.”Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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