The following is the second edition of a two-part article based on an interview with Athletic Director, Phil Vaccaro.
Part 2: Did RMHS Fail Joe Ronan? Is Reading High's drug policy not strict enough?
With two separate drug related incidents taking place recently resulting in the deaths of two young men from Reading, a community mourns and wants answers.
Some of the questions floating around include, "Who is to blame?" "Did Reading Memorial High School fail Joe Ronan?" "Does the town have a drug problem?" "What is going to be done?"
According to Athletic Director Phil Vaccaro, Joe Ronan was a model student and student athlete when he left the confines of Reading High, and what happened after high school is a mystery to him.
"I would have never predicted this would have happen to Joe Ronan when he was in high school," said Vaccaro. "Joe was not a troublemaker, he never had a chemical health violation, and he was a good leader on his hockey team."
"Let’s not use Joe Ronan as the scapegoat here. Joe was a fabulous young man. What happened after high school, I really don’t know, but while he was under our guide, he was a model student. He never played to hurt anybody, he was a good sport, a good role model, and right away the High School didn’t do enough for Joe Ronan. I disagree 100%."
Vaccaro says he feels like people tend to generalize a situation and place blame without having adequate information. He also says that his department has nothing to hide, and his policies are in place in an attempt to do what's best for every student.
"It’s easy for people to criticize when they’re on the outside when something happens," he said. "I’m not saying some of the things they are saying aren’t correct, but I think it’s just easy to throw the blanket around an incident and say, 'Joe Ronan got shot, there was drugs, next week there was another kid shot and there were drugs, and what’s Reading High doing about it?' Reading High does an awful lot about it."
In regards to RMHS's 25% season suspension policy when a student athlete commits a chemical health violation, Vaccaro says this is the school and Athletic Department's way of "curing the patient, not killing the patient."
"I have a philosophy that it’s our job to cure the patient, not kill the patient," said Vaccaro. "If somebody has a drug problem, what is so bad with us giving him or her a 25% season suspension, [and moving] on? Let’s not just cut them out and make him somebody else’s problem now. He’s still a student here, and we still have an obligation to try to help this kid as much as we can."
"This thing magnifies somebody’s nerve with their perception that Reading High does not do enough for kids. I’m not trying to downplay the problems we have, but we do our best. We don’t cover them up. We do our best to work with them."
Vaccaro says that in the world of 16-year-old Reading High kids, 90% of students hold co-curricular activities as a very important aspect in their lives. He says if people want him to just take that away from them completely, it's something he simply is not going to do.
"Athletics, band, and drama are very important to 90% of our students," he said. "It’s very important to those kids, and you want me to just take it away? I’m not going to do that, and I don’t think we should do that. We don’t give into it either, we don’t say 'well you were drinking, therefore you are no good.' I’ve never taken that philosophy in my life."
Vaccaro says he thinks parents would have to agree that condemning a kid for a violation is not the answer – instead he says they try to work with kids, and all the while hoping the student will learn from the mistake. He also believes parents would be unhappy if the rules were harsher – a sort of "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation.
"I think that a parent would have to agree with the philosophy that if a kid makes a mistake, [he or she] should serve the penalty," he said. "You made a mistake, you paid your price, let’s move on – that’s what life is about."
Vaccaro pointed to training sessions for coaches and captains, coach's manuals, punishments for violations, and a policy of doing what's best for kids, and asks how someone could say the high school isn't doing enough.
"I think [people] should realize that it’s a parent’s responsibility to bring up a kid, and it’s with the support of the high school. It’s not the high school’s responsibility to bring up the kids," he said.
"I think that [all the educational staff] has the best interest of the kids at heart, and we’re doing our best to provide them with a safe environment, with quality coaching, teachers, and administrators. We’re doing our best, but sometimes if we don’t do what [a parent] feels is best for their kid at that time, then we’re not doing our job."
Vaccaro describes the RMHS as well as RMHS athletics as "a fishbowl," a place that has nothing to hide.
"We’re all human beings, and it hurts when people criticize us when they really don’t know what’s going on," he said.
Phil Vaccaro invites anyone who would like to talk to him in regards to this article to call the RMHS Athletic Office at 781-942-9122.