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    JOHN KOULBANIS
    “Coach Misto is a fiercely driven individual and has high expectations for everyone who enters Federico Gym as part of the WHS girls team, says Westerly Athletic Director Jamey Vetelino. "She always attempted to instill that sense of drive into our student athletes and it is something that should be admired.” | Sun File Photo

    Westerly coach blames parental meddling for resignation

    WESTERLY — Former Westerly High girls’ basketball coach Holly Misto says significant and persistent interference from several parents that continued to escalate throughout the season led to her abrupt resignation on March 14.

    Misto, whose farewell letter was published in the March 25 edition of The Sun, issued an additional statement through email Friday in response to questions about her decision.

    “My staff and I were not asked to resign, and we did not step down as a result of any wrongdoing,” Misto wrote in her email.

    “I could no longer effectively coach my team in the context of significant interference from several parents that misunderstand the meaning of team. Though unsuccessful, these few parents relentlessly sought to find fault with me. I did not foresee an end to their persistence which began prior to the season, was continuous throughout the season, and escalated during the playoffs. They questioned my reputation and character, and I would not allow myself to continue coaching under the existing conditions,” she said.

    “During my nine year tenure, I was never asked to change my coaching style. In conversations and meetings, members of the administration repeatedly assured me of their full support,” she said.

    “I will not make any additional statements about the resignations of me and my staff,” she said. “I respectfully request that any further questions about my performance be directed to the school administration.”

    What exactly precipitated the resignations of Misto and her three assistants the day before the Bulldogs’ quarterfinal playoff game against North Kingstown is still unknown, and what specifically the parents were complaining about remains murky. Only three of the 18 parents contacted by The Sun were willing to speak on the record about the situation.

    Jan McLaughlin, whose daughter Maddy was the leading scorer on the team and a second-team All-State player, said she did not see or know of any behavior that would require Misto to resign.

    “We didn’t have any issues this year. Last year and the year before we did. We talked with Holly about it. We moved forward and Maddy continues to play basketball,” McLaughlin said, without elaborating.

    A former head coach of the boys’ team and one of Misto’s three assistants who resigned March 14, Lou Laudone said there were parents who had concerns about Misto’s coaching style throughout the year, but he said he saw no behavior that would have required Misto to resign.

    Two parents, who asked not to be identified, said that Misto yelled too much at the team during practices and games and claimed that her coaching style was too severe and that she did not balance criticism with enough positive comments. The two parents said they feared if their names were published, it could jeopardize their daughters’ opportunities. The two parents said they thought other parents were unwilling to discuss the situation for varying reasons: a desire to move past this chapter in the program, concern about retribution in a small community, the possibility that Misto would return as coach next season, and Misto’s clout in statewide Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball circles.

    “No one likes to see their kid reprimanded in the gym in front of everybody,” McLaughlin, whose daughter has played a lot of AAU basketball in the offseason, said.

    “My daughter has probably had 25 coaches since she has been 7. They all yell. It’s part of the game. I think a lot of the freshmen came with predetermined opinions about her,” she said. “I think sometimes kids go home and tell their parents they got yelled at. Instead of telling their kids to go back to practice and do what you are supposed to do, the parents get upset.”

    Mike Malvinni, whose daughter Bella plays on the 20-member team, said he never had an issue with Misto’s coaching.

    “About the only thing my daughter would say about practice was that it was tough. She worked hard and progressed through the system like Holly said she would.” Bella, a junior, became a starter in the latter stages of the season.

    “I think sometimes kids would go home and tell their parents they got yelled at in practice and not give the full story,” Malvinni said.

    Some parents were upset about substitution patterns during the game, he said.

    “My daughter would come out of the game and people in the stands would ask me why I wasn’t upset. I told them she needs more points,” Malvanni said of Misto’s reason for the substitution. “I had no problems with any of that.”

    Misto expects a lot from her players, he said.

    “You have to be mentally tough and I don’t know if some of these kids are,” Malvanni said.

    School Committee member Diane Chiaradio Bowdy, whose daughter, Jenna, is a freshman junior varsity player, said she has nothing but respect and admiration for Misto and is “extremely disheartened” by recent events.

    “I am thrilled that my daughter chose to play basketball, and she had a wonderful experience in her freshman year,” Bowdy said in an email response to questions. “Ironically the daughter of one of the complaining parents is the one who effectively recruited my daughter to play ...”

    Nearly all of the parents interviewed by The Sun seemed to agree on one issue: They were surprised by the abrupt resignation.

    Versions of events leading up to the resignation vary. Some said a group of parents met with school officials, including WHS Principal Steven Ruscito, the first week of March, with additional meetings taking place after the March 11 playoff victory against Chariho. Some said that Ruscito called a number of the parents and asked them to come in to discuss the situation. Others said he talked with most of the varsity players.

    Misto, who the day of her resignation had planned to treat the team to Dairy Queen after practice, met briefly with Westerly Athletic Director Jamey Vetelino before the practice. She resigned either during or after that meeting.

    “That is a mystery to everybody,” Malvinni said of the reason for Misto’s sudden departure. “I don’t know the issue that made this happen. She was under so much pressure the whole year. These parents wanted her out of there.”

    Vetelino indicated by email that his meeting with Misto was routine.

    “I talk to every coach when I attend a practice,” he said in his email.

    Vetelino noted that Misto is one of the most successful girls’ basketball coaches in Rhode Island.

    “In her time as head coach of Westerly High Schools girls basketball it has been exciting to see her work with and attempt to get the most out of all our student athletes. She has been blessed with some outstanding talent, has had the privilege of working with some knowledgeable assistants and has always worked cooperatively with her staff and administration to try and provide the best possible experience for all the girls involved,” Vetelino said in his email.

    “Coach Misto is a fiercely driven individual and has high expectations for everyone who enters Federico Gym as part of the WHS girls team. She always attempted to instill that sense of drive into our student athletes and it is something that should be admired,” he said.

    “Coach Misto was an outstanding student athlete here at Westerly High School, went on to be a tremendous student athlete in college and is a well-respected and successful optometrist in Westerly,” he said. “She and her coaching staff are and will continue to be outstanding role models for young women in Westerly. She is committed fully to her teams, spending off seasons coaching AAU, helping girls find programs to play on, went to clinics, created a summer camp and found preseason tournaments. During the season, she organized trips to N.H. for scrimmages and team building, scouted on off nights, reviewed videos and had well-designed, organized practices. These are all characteristics of a great coach that will be missed.”

    Misto coached the Bulldogs for nine seasons, compiling a 173-58 record (74.9 winning percentage). Westerly won the Division II title in 2010. The Bulldogs moved up to Division I the following season and were 25-2, losing in the state title game to La Salle. Their other loss that season was to La Salle.

    Five players have earned some level of All-State recognition under Misto. The top three girls’ scorers in the school’s history all played for Misto. During Westerly’s past four years in Division I, the Bulldogs have been eliminated from the postseason by the team that went on to win the state title each year.

    kkimberlin@thewesterlysun.com



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