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.

Kat S October 05, 2011 at 08:01 PM
First I want to make sure that Mr. V knows that he nor anyone else at RMHS has the power to "cure" anyone. His approach may infact contribute to "killing someone". Sports, drama, band...these are privledges that need to be earned, honored and respected. Mr V says "a kid makes a mistake, gets his punishment let's move on"...really...you think that kid has learned one thing from that? I will tell you what they learned, be more careful when you roll your blunt in the parking lot, try not to puke at the dance, try not draw attention to your car in Reading Center after 11pm,.that is the lesson they learned. If you want to take them back to the team I would not object but only with a signed contract by the player, parent, AD, coach and police outlining the expectations and agreeing to random drug testing by parents/pediatrician whatever. We are talking life and death here. Was anyone listening at the first forum when 3 young adults stood up and said they began heroin use while in Reading High. And contrary to Mr V comments a kid can still be a leader, a good player, a nice kid even a good student and abuse drugs and alcohol. That is the misconception here,nice good people make bad choices..young and old. Get a Decisions program with age appropriate speakers with real life stories...get AA, NA, Half Way Houses, Shelters....get people who really know whats going on with kids today. Many a kid has died because they got off light and life had no second chance for them the next time.
Kat S October 05, 2011 at 10:41 PM
One more question.....if a player (lets say football) has a first offense and is required to sit out 25% of the season...is that the remaining season or what the equivalent of a full season would be? So you get caught drinking the first week of November, you miss one football game and then play in the big Thankgiving day since the "season" only had 3 games left? If it is 25% of a season shouldn't that carry over to the next year if the season is essentially over?
Kara Deyermenjian October 05, 2011 at 10:52 PM
Kat S - It is my understanding that the punishment is carried over to the next season.
Kaitlin Menzie October 06, 2011 at 12:14 AM
As a response to highflyer: I really don't think this is an asinine comment. While I understand that anything newsworthy an RMHS athlete does will inevitably be tied to the school, and that it's important to represent the school accordingly, parents do have a large amount of responsiblity in this issue, larger than the school's. What people often fail to point out is that it's the *kid's* responsibility. If you're a 16 year old student at RMHS, you've either passed decisions or are taking it again. Kid's are aware of the risks involved, and yes, we don't always make the right decisions. Instead, though, of everyone pointing fingers at the adults who are "responsible" for these tragedies, let's try to remember there was a kid, with other kids, probably without adults, who made this decision.
Cheryl Buono October 06, 2011 at 01:44 AM
I would expect that the new freshman girls' basketball coach at Reading High would know for certain how the rules apply.
Kara Deyermenjian October 06, 2011 at 02:11 AM
None of my players had any chemical health violations (my first year coaching), and I therefor have not had any personal experience with suspensions. However, based on what I learned at my coach's training, it is my understanding that if a player is suspended and the season ends before the penalty is completed, it is carried over to the next season.
Kaitlin Menzie October 06, 2011 at 02:24 AM
I feel like there is a lot of unnessecary hostility in these comments. Do you people seriously want to fix a problem here or just troll on patch? Honestly, how is any of this animosity productive?
Kat S October 06, 2011 at 02:33 AM
Kaitlin you are on to something. As a reader, parent, health care professional and Mom of a freshman I find myself wanting to reply to many of the comments wearing a variety of hats. At the end of the day I want to be part of the solution....I want to hear what I might be doing wrong or right, how can I help, what am I missing, misreading, not acting on, not teaching my child about....No one posting here has the answer and if they think they do they are terribly misguided. I also want to commend Kara for having the courage and maturity to participate in this dialog using her true name and identity. It is so easy to hide behind anonimity when we want to blast someone. And for the record I never heard of her before tonight and I don't follow girls baskball...the gift of height alluded me and my daughter,,,but way to go coach for sticking your neck out and being part of the solution.
Marissa October 06, 2011 at 02:23 PM
Highflyer, Thanks for participating in this conversation. I clearly understand the commitments made to any activity, whether it be RMHS or another organization. I too am attempting to help the young people grow in to active members of society. I work with young people each and every day, not as my job but in a volunteer capacity. I am committed to this and that is why I believe that parents should be parenting and school should be educating. I believe that the right individuals need to be overseeing and managing the issues. If a 16 year old is caught by a police officer doing something deemed inappropriate and is brought to their home or their parents are called to the police station, I believe the punishment should be the determination of the parents and the police. I do not believe that the school should then be notified of this student's actions. Yes, I understand that people of all ages are accountable for their actions but accountable to how many different parties and how many punishments. I would like the experts to use their knowledge in the right areas. Schools and teachers, help us educate the students. Parents, raise the kids and work in partnership with the educators. And yes, parents, you are the ones that will oversee accolades and punishments. Police, you partner by helping to educate but you also must follow guidelines for punishment. Yes, the Decisions class and Freshman Advisory could have more speakers and real life information, I agree.
Dave Miskinis October 06, 2011 at 03:20 PM
Your hostility, animosity and attempt at providing a solution are all duly noted.
Hammertime October 06, 2011 at 07:47 PM
Wow so the AD and the educators/teachers now have the power and authority to cure? "I have a philosophy that it’s our job to cure the patient, not kill the patient," said Vaccaro Did not know their training/background was medical. This speaks to the arrogance he has and twists of vocabulary he dances with in trying to explain and excuse the serious violation a student may have when having a chemical whatever they call it. Maybe sitting on the bench watching others is a real consequence vs the slap on the wrist that our scociety has gotten so use too. There are no real or fast answers but we have to have a 0 tolerance policy with real consequences if we are trying to prepare our youth for real life beyond RMHS. He should stick to teaching and scheduling games, not such life and death matters. Sorry to those of thin skin if they do not appreciate the tone, but we have two people who are dead because of drug innvovlement and many other lives hanging in the balance of addiction which is a serious and dangerous path. By the way I do not have the answer but do attend the meeting and want to help in anyway , but we all have to be brutally honest even if some people dont like it.
Kaitlin Menzie October 07, 2011 at 11:15 AM
This has nothing to do with anyone being "thin-skinned." I don't take personal offense to any of the comments in this discussion, and I don't think anyone else should. This has to do with everyone's need to point fingers at the people who are actually trying to help already, and turning this into a witch hunt.
Susan P October 07, 2011 at 11:24 AM
Its sad when these incidents happen that the immediate reaction of some parents is how to fix the damage for the kid versus levying out appropriate consequences. I have seen instances where the parent seeks the advice of the AD on how to best minimize the impact. Thats where you see the hockey players joining the cross country team or spring team just long enough to serve their penalty. Stuff like that still going on this year folks.
AnonLikeU October 07, 2011 at 11:35 AM
At first I couldn't figure out the point of the second sport, but I think I'm catching on. :-) Not sure if I have the scheme quite right though. Are some of you saying that if a violation occurs, you can immediately join another sport mid-way through their season, and serve the penalty under that sport? So the player is on two sports at the same time, suspended under the secondary sport, still playing the primary sport? Wow!
Kat S October 07, 2011 at 12:28 PM
So we can assume that Cher is your real name?
John October 07, 2011 at 12:38 PM
Yes and no. Let me give you an example of how it does work. Let's say a hockey player gets busted for drugs in the spring. Instead of serving his punishment by missing 25% of his hockey games the next winter, he'll be added to a fall team like cross country for instance and serve his suspension during the cc season, so that he is free and clear to play 100% of hockey season (as long as he isn't busted again of course). Been going on for many, many years under the current regime. I wish Mr V was asked about this "policy" during his 2 part interview.
SMS October 07, 2011 at 12:57 PM
Perfect explanation John. Happens all the time.
Cheryl Buono October 07, 2011 at 01:14 PM
Why would you assume that? I'm not posting as a Patch employee. I hope that you don't use that kind of logic in your healthcare profession. That's an interesting last name you have. What nationality is it?
Kat S October 07, 2011 at 01:35 PM
Some times it's just better to take the high rode and let posters or is it "posers" hang themselves. My participation in this conversation is done......
AnonLikeU October 07, 2011 at 01:50 PM
Got it, thanks. Interesting. And still "Wow!"
A. Horch October 08, 2011 at 12:35 AM
More like double "WOW". You don't know the half of it. Before they wouldn't even try to game the system - incidents, including hazing, would just be swept under the rug and hushed up. No internet blogs back then.
A. Horch October 08, 2011 at 12:56 AM
In addition to coaching, Kara was also the guest editor this week.
A. Horch October 08, 2011 at 01:21 AM
While "Cher's" writing style can be abrasive at times, I don't think it's fair for someone else who is also hiding beyond anonimity to call her a poser. I apologize in advance if your last name is really "S". We have Peter, Dave, John, Hammertime, Susan P, some flute guy and even John Denver. I enjoy reading all their comments - whether I agree or disagree with them. There are even some legitimate sounding fake screen names. One reader even thanked one of them for having the courage to use their "real" name - very amusing. You don't who's who on the web, even if you think that you do. Just post your own comments don't worry about anyone else's screen name or comments. I'm perplexed by your logic and some comments as well. But you know what? It doesn't matter.
Kaitlin Menzie October 08, 2011 at 02:04 AM
A. Horch- While in the context of most places on the web, I would agree with your points on anonymity, I think Patch is a unique online space. Everyone commenting on Patch (probably) lives or is involved in Reading, something you can't say about almost any other web forum. I choose to use my real name here, though not on other sites, because it reminds me that these people could actually be my neighbors, teachers or anyone else I could easily come into contact with in my daily life. Online identities generally only hold context in the forums in which they were created. Here we may be discussing issues online, but the context of these issues is our everyday lives. That's why I think it matters.
A. Horch October 08, 2011 at 02:45 AM
Kaitlin, you are wiser beyond your years. And smarter than most here. If infact, you are the real KM. As you correctly indicate, this is a forum and not a blog. If it were a true blog where identities were verified then I would agree with your premise. But anyone with an internet connection anywhere in the world can register as a Patch contributor. I was reading from Europe a few weeks ago. Anyone could fraudulently register using the name of one of your teachers, neighbors, classmates or even you. Reading the local news, they could make you think that they were part of the community. Seems like a lot of work, but there are people with time on their hands that troll the internet looking to engage people in online arguments. Anyway, my point was because you can't be sure who's who in this type of forum don't engage them in discussion and don't get worked up over someone's comments. Stay safe on the internet.
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.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something