RMHS Substance Abuse Policy: The A.D.'s Side of the Story, Part 2 of 2

After being attacked in the comments section of many Patch articles, it is time to hear RMHS Athletic Director Phil Vaccaro's side of the story.

The following is the second edition of a 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 , 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 , 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.

SMS October 08, 2011 at 09:33 PM
I suggest you read the comment on the part 1 where a former student chimed in on his experience as a former hockey player.
ritche October 09, 2011 at 05:52 AM
I find it so frustrating listening to the same old response from the AD about the concerns and well being of the children. Answer's that have been danced around the same questions year after year. After personally witnessing an ongoing issue involving a particular sport where not only the parent's , but athlete's as well ,have had concerns over the leadership(coach?). Over the past 8 years or so along with meetings,documenting,hard facts,petitions and inevitably a decline of at least 25 % involvement in the sport,has only been perceived as a personal attack on him, the AD. This lack of response to a very concerning change has finally been taken on by the higher ups in administration and action has finally been taken in the concern and the safety of the children-athlete. So the infamous quote containing "the staff has the best interest of the kids at heart with a safe enviroment and quality coaching" in this particular sport , he has finally been proven wrong. Over the course of say the last 8 to 10 years, the voices and determination of the people pleading to do the rite thing,the change has been made,but not without alot of broken hearts, a million tears shed and hard facts twisted into personal accusations. Bring on the quality and realiable coaching this sport has needed and deserved for so very long,and may we all lead by example,CHANGE IS POSSIBLE!
Joyce October 09, 2011 at 01:30 PM
The AD is not the person in question, here. People are trying to redefine his role. I think that the police in town need to adopt a different approach. Their mission statement should be to teach and help these young people instead of taking the Rambo approach!!!
Cheryl Buono October 13, 2011 at 10:59 PM
Ms. S, No hostility intended. Typing on a smart phone is not easy, so I didn't take the time to write a more eloquent and detailed comment. The point I wanted to make, was that a new coach, recently trained on the policy, would be in a position to know the rules for a violation as opposed to a more experienced coach who may have witnessed adulterated and varied applications of it. The coach originally wrote, "it is my understanding .." Maybe it's my english as a second language translation, but I took that to imply - "it's my interpretation..." So I thought that meant that the rule was not clear or the training not effective. In a follow-up reply, the coach repeated "it is my understanding ..." and cited her lack of personal experience with the policy. So, is the rule that vague that a coach needs to experience it first hand to know how it works or is "it is my understanding " the wrong choice of words and she intended to say something like. "In this situation, the penalty WOULD carry over to the next season? BTW, One would expect the guest editor to use her real name as part of doing her job. Just click on her name and you get a bio. No need to follow basketball to know who she is. Also, there is no height restriction on being a basketball fan or even playing it. Good thing Muggsy Bouges' parents didn't discourage him from trying out for the team.
John October 14, 2011 at 10:36 PM
Simple solution to all of this is to have drug test and make the parents pay for them. You fail the random test, you’re suspended. It’s about time that parent's step up and become better parents. Blaming an AD for their kids drug issue isn't the solution, he's not with them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Why isn't anyone blaming the hockey coaches? They have more control of the hockey team than the AD does. You wonder why one of the best coaches in hockey left the team, it's simple, and he didn't want to deal with all of the issue around the team. Why isn’t anyone blaming the assistant coach who was a cop in town? As far as players serving the suspension, if you go to the MIAA web site and read the rules, it clearly states that a player suspension carries to the next season regardless of what sports he plays. Bottom-line, parents need to accept some of the blame. Shame on them for turning their backs and believing they have the perfect kid. Phil does a great job as AD and I applaud him for his efforts. It’s not easy being an AD as dealing with parents who think their kids are better athletes then they really are, dealing with budgets, dealing with other AD’s in the league, and not to mention the MIAA. You will learn how good Phil is when he retires; trust me as the next person won’t be nearly as good as him.


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