Dozens of students, athletes and parents crowded the back of Tuesday's meeting to show support for an assistant track coach for the upcoming school year.
Anthony SanFilippo has been coaching indoor track at for the past seven years, including outdoor track for the past four years. He learned Friday he would not be offered a contract to coach this year. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Fried said he is unable to comment on why SanFilippo is not being brought back next year because it is a personnel issue. Still, several supporters of SanFilippo attended the board meeting to urge the board to reconsider the decision.
Students, current and former, who spoke at Tuesday's meeting shared memories and stories of success with the audience and board of education members. Taylor Bernstein, a Pine Brook resident and All-American athlete who won competitions in shot put last year, said SanFilippo once drove to a track meet that was eight hours away to coach and support him.
"Anthony was a blessing for the track and field program," he said.
Stephanie Maggio, a sophomore, said she came to the high school with interest in soccer and decided to give track a shot as well. With SanFilippo's coaching, she ended up breaking the high school's triple jump record five times and winning a third place ranking in the county. She was hoping to continue working with SanFilippo throughout her high school career.
"To be able to break the record again and again all the way through my senior year would really mean a lot," she said.
SanFilippo's coaching also helped former student David Liebowitz bring home some of Montville's first state and county championship titles in shot put. Liebowitz said the top five shot put throwers in history "are all products of Anthony's coaching."
Check out more comments from Tuesday's meeting in the video attached to this article.
Students were not the only ones speaking on SanFilippo's behalf Tuesday night. Parents and coaches spoke as well, asking the board of education to consider reinstating SanFilippo. Mark Philhower, the head coach of the track team, said he has been coaching in the district for 30 years and through 90 seasons and that SanFilippo is the best assistant coach the school has had the entire time.
"If we lose Anthony, a lot of our program goes with him," he said.
Parent Joe Sergeant said SanFilippo teaches the students he coaches much more than just about a sport. He said he teaches dedication, perseverance and setting goals.
"He has created an atmosphere where these kids root for each other more than any other high school sport I've seen," Sergeant said.
Sergeant's son, Nick, said he feels the track program will be negatively affected by the loss of SanFilippo.
"Losing this all-around great man would just be such a detriment to this great organization that we have," he said.
Matthew Wis, a former high school student and athlete coached by SanFilippo, spoke on behalf of his sister, Leah, an incoming freshman at Montville Township High School, who is "crushed" by the district's decision not to keep SanFilippo as a coach. Wis said his fourteen-year-old sister has been named an All-American athlete 14 times and has already had experience with SanFilippo's coaching.
"He comes out of his way to coach her, to help her. He is an excellent coach, she absolutely adores him and she was crushed when she found out from people and my family that there was a decision made that he wasn't going to be coming back," he said.
Leah Wis , representing Morris County and the state in the national competition. SanFilippo accompanied her family, paying his own way for the travel and expenses involved, so that he could be there to support her.
Bob Wis, Leah and Matthew's dad and another of the parents who spoke about SanFilippo at Tuesday's meeting, said SanFilippo is the only coach he would trust to help his daughter. Wis is also a high school track coach.
"To lose someone like this, as a Montville resident, it borders on insane," Wis said.
Wis said his family was unsure whether his daughter should attend public or private high school, but part of the reason she chose Montville Township High School was because she would have the opportunity to work with SanFilippo. Wis said the kids will be most affected by not having SanFilippo as a coach.
Prior to the students' comments, Board President Karen Cortellino commented that the board votes on recommendations made by the administration. No further comments were made by board members on the topic, other than Cortellino thanking the students for their remarks.
"Your comments were heard and were very heartfelt," she said.
After the comments, an emotional SanFilippo said he was overwhelmed by the support of the students and parents at the board meeting and that he feels coaching goes beyond what happens on a field or track.
"A coach is someone who isn't just supposed to be on the field, watching people. That's not what a coach is supposed to be," SanFilippo said. "A coach also needs to get involved and to help their kids grow as people and to help turn them into adults and help them find the right college, get involved with their families and make sure everything is going the way their parent wants, not just what we want as coaches."
SanFilippo said he feels he exceeded the expectations of a coach and that when it came to his athletes, he would do whatever it took to help them.
"I've never said 'no.' I never will say 'no,' and if that's an issue, then don't bring me back," he said.