Dozens of current and former cross country and track athletes along with parents showed up at Tuesday's school board meeting to hear the news firsthand: their popular longtime track coach, Jerry Vessichio, will remain in his position as head coach.
The announcement was met with loud applause.
Vessichio, whose position was at stake for undisclosed reasons, has served as the boys' cross country, indoor track and outdoor track coach in Three Village since 1994. A resident of Rocky Point, he is a teacher in the Levittown school district.
School board vice president Jonathan Kornreich said Wednesday that he was "concerned with making sure we have the most qualified and most effective person in the job." He said parent input to the Board of Education was a key factor in the outcome of the situation.
"I’m happy to see that parents who are interested and involved and knowledgeable got together and let us know what was going on," Kornreich said.
Parents reported to the district that they were unhappy that a coaching change was being proposed. Diane Fitzgerald, whose son Alex earned All-County honors as a junior last season on the team, was one of those parents. She said the athletes learned from the coach that someone else would be taking over head coaching responsibilities, and word spread quickly, yielding an outpouring of support for the coach.
Fitzgerald said Vessichio has a positive coaching style that teaches the athletes not only to succeed on the track but in other aspects of life, too.
"Track is affording Alex opportunities he would not have had without it. He is being courted by schools from Ivy League on down ... and I owe his development to Coach Jerry Vessichio," Fitzgerald said. "We have a gold mine at our feet with some of these coaches, especially Coach V."
John DiCalogero, a 2000 Ward Melville graduate, said much the same in a letter to the school administration.
"Coach V wasn't only an inspiration on the track, but he helps his athletes become responsible and successful men," DiCalogero wrote. "When I look back and my experience at Ward Melville, my memories with Coach V and the Ward Melville track and field team are the ones I cherish most. As a born and raised 'Three Villager' I would never want an athlete to miss out on the experiences and lessons Coach V taught us."
Under Vessichio's leadership, the outdoor track team won a league championship in 2012; the winter track team won a league championship in 2006; and the cross country team won league championships in 2004 and 2007, and won the county title in 2007 as well. He said he has coached more than 30 athletes who earned college scholarships in track or cross country.
Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said she could not comment on the specifics of the originally proposed coaching change.
Reached by phone on Wednesday, Vessichio said he was "extremely happy" with the outcome.