MONROE, CT — Masuk interim head football coach, Brian Halapin, led the Panthers to victory against Killingly last Friday with a 43-20 triumph on the road. The game followed another battle at the Monroe Board of Education meeting, during which parents pleaded for the return of their head coach, Steve Christy, and Associate Head Coach Eric Giordano to the sidelines.
The coaches are on administrative leave, pending an investigation into the culture of the football program.
At the Sept. 5 board meeting, parents vouched for the character and team first mantra of Christy and Giordano, who is also a teacher at Masuk. At the conclusion of the public comment session, Chairman David Ferris asked police officers to escort one father out of the meeting after a back-and-forth with the man, who demanded to know when the investigation will end, refusing to sit down.
When parents were permitted three minutes each to speak — with some sharing the time to move the meeting along, the audience broke into loud applause for each.
Melissa Brownbill spoke of the concept of “team first”, a brotherhood of players supporting each others’ strengthens and helping to overcome weaknesses.
“This is what Coach Steve Christy brought to this team,” she said. “This is what Coach Eric Giordano manifests in these young men every day.”
“The parents of these children, including those who are against him at this time, have lobbied for Steve to be appointed as our Masuk football head coach in 2021,” Brownbill said. “I, as a parent, have never witnessed any abusive language, mistreatment of players or forcing any players to play when they are injured.”
Marc and Diana Champagne, whose two sons have been involved with football since age four, said both benefited from the coaching and teaching of Christy and Giordano.
“Their guidance and their mentorship of my two boys over the years has been invaluable,” Marc said, “and we’ve been completely impressed from day one … with the amount of time they invest into these kids, teaching them football, teaching them sportsmanship, teaching them what teamwork is about and putting in the work and the effort that you need to be successful.”
He recalled the winning records and deep playoff runs under Christy’s stewardship, as well as the team first mantra.
“And unfortunately I think, for the minority of people that have come forward to complain against these two men, the theory of ‘team first’ is lost on them,” Marc said. “They are only interested in benefiting themselves and they’ve endeared themselves to these coaches, only to try to benefit from them on a personal level. They don’t know anything about what ‘team first’ means.”
He said his family’s experience with the two coaches has been nothing but positive.
“I just want to add, Steve has been in the community for over 30 years. He’s dedicated his life to these kids,” said Diana Champagne. “He doesn’t deserve what’s been going on. He is now a hostage in his own home. He can’t go out into the community.”
“Coach Giordano, he is an amazing person,” she said, adding how many students choose the teacher’s class at Masuk, just to be in his class. “It’s not just about football. These people have an impact on the community and to our student body and I think that it’s really sad that we’re going through this right now.”
Anthony Bacarella, who has known Christy since he was five-years-old, came up to speak with his father, Leonard, who has coached with him. He mentioned Christy’s track record as a youth football coach for the Lions and at the high school level with Harding, Stratford and Masuk.
“The wins don’t matter. The championships don’t matter,” Bacarella said. “The love that those kids,” he said, pointing to players seated behind him, “that these guys have for Coach Christy is what matters. That’s legacy. That’s football. I’m 35-years-old. I have twin girls at home. I can put them to bed. I simply came here, because I love this program. I sweat, I bled in this program behind me — and what we’re doing to those guys back there is a disgrace. To take away two guys who are supposed to be part of their every day.”
In football, Bacarella said players are going to be coached hard. While it may hurt their feelings, he said they must decide how to respond, either by quitting or getting better.
“For the guys that quit, they’re going to grow up and continue to complain,” Bacarella said. “They’re going to grow up and continue to quit. They’re going to be bad husbands, bad fathers. And for guys who do the right thing and get better, they’re going to be the ones who succeed. They’re going to be the ones who show up for somebody who’s wrongly accused or can’t stand up for themselves.”
Leonard Bacarella said he has known Christy for over 30 years. “He’s my best friend,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anyone in this room that knows Steve Christy better than I. I’m not special, but I will tell you this: it would be a disservice to these young men to remove him and deny him to coach. He exemplifies what a coach is all about.”
Bacarella said coaching is about molding young boys and turning them into young men, while instilling discipline, respect, integrity and accountability.
When the three minutes were up, Ferris thanked him and tried to move to the next speaker.
“I’m not done,” Bacarella said
“I have to stop you there,” Ferris said.
“Well, I’m going to get one more sentence in here,” Bacarella said. “Once again, it will be a tremendous disservice to put Steve Christy and Coach Giordano out for the season, and if that’s the case, shame on this board.”
Nicole Conti said Masuk football families were made “vaguely aware” of the reasoning behind their coaches’ administrative leave in the middle of the summer. “We’re now on day 64 of what is being referred to as an investigation into the culture of our team,” she said.
After accusations of a hostile and intimidating culture were brought to the Board of Education’s attention, Conti said players, captains from the past two years and parents provided letters to the contrary to the board and the investigator.
“While we had expected the Board of Education to find value in this feedback, we instead find ourselves questioning the process,” Conti said. “We find ourselves having to assemble here today to know with certainty that our voices have been heard and understood.”
“My son and his teammates are the only victims to be found,” she continued. “It’s not the culture of their beloved sport to blame. Their season has been disrupted, a shadow cast on the program. The Board of Eduction took the path of least resistance by hiring outside council at the expense of all of us.”
Conti claimed the school board and its investigator never interviewed Coach Christy or Coach Giordano. She said the team deserves to have its coaches back on the sideline and Masuk High School deserves to have “one of its finest educators” back in the classroom.
“Thank you for wanting to keep our children safe and for taking allegations seriously,” Conti said, “but please allow our program, our children and our coaches to carry on and heal from this time of needless defamation.”
‘We’re a family’
Anthony Marciano said his son, David, had a bad experience with a soccer coach and nearly gave up on high school sports, before playing football under Christy.
“Since then, my son became a better kid, a better son, a better friend,” Marciano said. “He had like two friends when we got there and he had 42 brothers when we left. This came from what he learned: team first, being responsible, being accountable.”
Marciano credits Christy’s influence for his son’s turnaround and got emotional, dabbing tears from his eyes while recalling a time when he had lost his job and couldn’t afford to keep his son in Christy’s football camp.
“‘Look, I want you to send David. I have the money,'” Marciano said Christy told him.
“But coach, you can’t do that. This is your business,” Marciano pleaded.
He said Christy told him, “no, that’s what families do and we’re a family.”
“Coach Christy is a maker of men and that’s all I have to say,” Marciano said.
Bill Romaniello said he was nine-years-old when Christy was his first coach. “He taught me life lessons that I’ll never forget,” he said.
As an unknown sophomore defensive lineman, Romaniello said Coach Giordano saw something in him and helped to elevate him to a standout who made All Conference twice and All State, earning a scholarship to play at the next level.
“That right there is my story,” Romaniello said. “There’s other people behind me who have that similar story. That doesn’t happen. My past doesn’t happen without the leadership of those two men.”
Christy’s sister-in-law said coaches like him help put young people on the right path. She called Christy and Giordano pillars of the community and expressed her hope that whatever issues or problems there are will be resolved.
Saving a life
“This investigation started on July 6,” said Felicia Anzalone. “This football season is already well underway and now classes are back in session and we have no answer or clarity as to what is going on. I am afraid we are running out of time — out of time for the kids who need the program more than the program needs the kids.”
Anzalone recalled how “uncertainties at home” made it feel like her life was falling apart during her freshman year at Masuk years ago, and how being a cheerleader was the only structure she cared about. She found herself getting into trouble, while her grades suffered.
Administrators considered moving her to the alternative education program off campus, where she could no longer be part of cheer.
“It was the man being accused of, we still don’t know what, Eric Giordano, who said, ‘if you take away her sport, she will have nothing left to live for,'” Anzalone said, “and so my coach, Jackie Giordano, came up with a plan to keep me at Masuk and hold me accountable. Coach Giordano’s statement was 100 percent accurate. If I lost cheer, I would have lost everything. Coach Giordano saved me.”
Anzalone went on to receive the Superintendent Award her senior year. “I was a freshman who didn’t stand a chance and yet found her way to make a total turnaround in her academics and her life,” she said. “Without Coach Giordano speaking for me and helping to keep me accountable I would not have made it to my senior year.”
“I graduated high school 12 years ago,” she said. “I am not alone in saying I can pick up the phone and call Coach Giordano tomorrow and he would still be there for me as if it were my freshmen year.”
Anzalone urged the school board to speed up the investigation and restore the certainty of the program and the school. “The Masuk High School students and athletes deserve to have the confidence in their education and their sports,” she said.
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