New Canaan Youth Football Coach Subject of Negative Sign, Grievance

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New Canaan Youth Football leaders say they’re investigating the public posting of a sign that appears to call for the ousting of one of its coaches.

The nonprofit sports organization’s president, Wendy Cunney, said she removed the sign from the fence at Farm Road and South Avenue—a conspicuous place for local organizations to post notices, typically spotlighting high school sports teams’ schedules—because it was “unauthorized and inappropriate.”

“We are upset about the sign,” Cunney said.

The community message board at South Avenue and Farm Road on the morning of Oct. 12, 2015. Credit: Michael Dinan

The community message board at South Avenue and Farm Road on the morning of Oct. 12, 2015. Credit: Michael Dinan

The largest letters on the sign, which appeared Monday morning, seem to identify a coach on an 8th-grade team, saying that individual “must go.”

The league has contacted both New Canaan High School’s athletic director, who helps oversee the public posting area at South and Farm, as well as the New Canaan Police Department “to assist us,” Cunney said.

“When we find out who it is, we will pursue as much sanction in our Parents Code of Conduct as we can,” she said.

Signed by parents with kids in the popular youth football program, part of that Code reads: “I have an obligation to address any concerns that I may have at the time they occur with the Head Coach, member organization’s President or FCFL President.”

Another part reads: “I will encourage good sportsmanship by demonstrating positive support for all players, coaches and officials.”

Cunney said league leadership is “disappointed” about the sign. “This is certainly not what our program and not what our community is about,” she said.

Incongruously, parts of the sign also read “Go NC,” “NC Pride” and “Go Rams,” among other positive messages.

NCHS Athletic Director Jay Egan said people are asked to use either end of the fence at South and Farm for community announcements and that the two middle sections are used for athletics. Though an unauthorized commercial sign occasionally appears, nothing negative has been posted there before, Egan said.

Reached by, the coach whose name appeared in the sign declined to comment, referring questions to Cunney.

It appeared at South and Farm as NCYF addresses a separate matter related to the same 8th-grade team (itself identified in smaller letters on the sign): A grievance has been filed against its coaching staff, Cunney confirmed.

Multiple parents of the team interviewed by said complaints related to the coach in question deal with overly aggressive berating of the kids, personal attacks directed toward the youth and inappropriately phrased comments about their play.

Such grievances from parents about coaches are neither uncommon nor unique to football among youth sports in town, according to Chris Robustelli, chairman of the Youth Sports Committee, a town-appointed body which oversees the local, volunteer-run organizations.

Asked to speak generally about the frequency of grievances within youth sports, Robustelli said: “There are issues in every sport in town. This is not the first and will not be the last. If it warrants attention, it is addressed.”

In a season that has seen at least one key player lost to injury, this particular team has enjoyed little success, parents told

Last year, when the boys were in the 7th grade and lost a game, the players brought home a document—clearly drawn from quarterback Tim Tebow’s famous “Promise” speech as a collegiate athlete—to parents to sign, that apologized for losing. “We wanted an undefeated season,” part of that document read. “That was our goal, something NC Black has never done here.”

The team has two games remaining this season, at Weston and home versus Wilton, according to a schedule posted online.

The grievance process is very early, Cunney said.

Clearly outlined on NCYF’s website, the process has a Grievance Committee interview parties involved to try to resolve the matter, which may then be referred to league’s board.

“If referred to the Board of Directors, the grievance will be addressed as swiftly as possible and may result in suspension of coaching privileges for some length of time or permanently,” part of the NCYF Grievance Procedure reads.

17 thoughts on “New Canaan Youth Football Coach Subject of Negative Sign, Grievance

  1. what coward posts a sign like that without ownership?? just a coward a guess, but what makes it even worse is when we are stupid enough to write about it in the paper without all of the FACTS included not realizing the negative effect it will have on a family…just plain stupid. The football board has avenues in place for parents to be heard without feeling as if they will be punished, new members were assigned and became members for this specific (non coaching members just parents) reason. The coaches at this grade level have dedicated countless hours of time trying to teach kids how to play football but the fact is this grade level has encountered rogue parents for the past three years. I would have thought that a the reporting process would have completed a full investigation before posting a name of a family without having the full facts in the story as well… very irresponsible.

    • Thank you for posting this comment and I understand your concerns. This is a very sensitive topic—as you rightly note, youth football coaches are dads who volunteer—and we do not take lightly our responsibility in reporting difficult material. We published this article knowing that it could not be handled in such a way to make everyone happy. I do feel it is our job to report this story. The short answer to your specific question is that parents interviewed for this article expressed concern that their children would receive retribution from coaches and others. I also should note, Mike, that we quoted the league high up and at length for this story and were careful not to write out fully or tag the coach’s name so that it pops up on no Google searches. Finally, in terms of the reporting process, let me copy here a note I posted on our Facebook page in sharing the article—not sure if this helps answer your questions, but it is worth repeating here. Thank you again: “I think it’s important to explain something about reporting stories where people want to be heard without being identified. A rule of thumb for journalists in these cases is that 1. There must be a very good reason why someone doesn’t want himself or herself identified, 2. These people must positively ID themselves to the reporter, and 3. If at least three different people with direct knowledge of the matter (in this case, parents of the team) say the very same thing in completely separate interviews, then what they say is reportable “on background.” Even then, it’s bad form to quote those people directly, high up in a story or at length—and we’ve avoided doing any of those things here. Though not a perfect system, it’s there to protect people from anonymous, unfounded pot-shotting. In this case, each parent we interviewed said he or she did not want to be identified for fear of retribution taken out on their kids. That is regrettable, as the president of the league acknowledged when she spoke to us (and Wendy spoke to us on the record, which we absolutely prefer to interviews ‘on background,’ and which we appreciate).” I am here to answer any additional questions you or any other reader has, and can be reached on my cellphone 24/7 at 203-817-1278.

      • Michael, keep digging becuase this is much more than an isolated incident. This speaks to the culture of winning at any cost that is widespread in the NC youth football program. Remember the NC coaches that had their 8th grade team burn their runners up trophies when they didn’t win the championship a few years ago. To learn that a NC 7th grade team was coached to write an apology letter to their parents losing a single regular season game is not surprising for the NC football program but it does call into question the kind of values that the NC coaches are instilling the kids they coach. There was a game earlier this year in which the NC Black 6th grade coach was suspended for trying to physically assualt the opposing coaching staff. He had to be restrained by at least two men from starting a fist fight right on the field and in front of his whole team.

        Make no mistake that the NC youth football program is a very well organized and politically powerful organization as you can tell by the repsonses you got to your article. I encourage you to continue your work and I encourage the other parents to reply to you with their experiences.

  2. As a NCYF 8Black parent I would like to say how disappointed I am in your article! My son has been coached by these coaches for 6 + years on the football team as well as in other sports in town! Our coaches have done nothing but give their time and effort to this football team. My son has had a positive experience and even during this 0-5 season my son still remains very positive (which I give credit to our coaches). I support our coaches and think it’s a shame that you would write up such an article to hurt a family in town! I will not be following you on Facebook or receiving your emails any longer.

  3. As residents of Norwalk, New Canaan Youth Football league not only welcomed us to their league, but is teaching my son Andrew more than the game of football. All of the coaches are truly dedicated to the boys. Some of the parents see a coach that might be hard on their boy but I see a coach that only wants 100% effort from that young man. It is refreshing to see that at every practice and every game. I am proud to have [removed] as one of my son coaches.

  4. The guy that had to be restrained is the former president of the league and also the poster above, “Mike C.” Why would you attack New Canaanite who has done more to promote your kids than anyone? Every week I read Cognetta this, Cognetta that. Sometimes you have to read news that is not all warm and fuzzy. Biting the hand that feeds you is just a dumb move.

  5. As a parent of a son who joined this team just last year, I would like to make a couple of points:
    1) Despite never having played football before, my son was welcomed to this team and the coaches spent significant extra time bringing him up to speed (literally one coach arrived 30 minutes early to every practice) – that’s dedication which provides a great example to our children;
    2) The coaches are tough, but frankly no tougher than I have seen in many others sports. These are four fathers who have spent a considerable amount of their time over six years dedicated to these boys including their own boys. When they talk about the challenges in a year like this, they teach them as life lessons about hard work and overcoming adversity. Again, great lessons for our children.
    3) It is easy to take one sound bite from a person or group of people, but without a larger context for what has been going on, the truth cannot be fully revealed. Our schools spend a great deal of time telling us that they are developing our children’s higher-level thinking. That means analyzing the facts, developing a thesis, testing that thesis against real information as well as accepting dis-confirming data and supporting the analysis when communicated. I think this topic would be well served by following the same process which our children are being taught.

    • I would just like to quickly point out that the extra half hour is a violation of the rules. Players can not be subject to more than six hours a week and two hours a day.

  6. You people are blaming Mike for his reporting? Are you all lost?
    An ugly incident happened with overly aggressive parents trying to publicly shame a volunteer coach and Mike did his job reporting the incident. He took no sides and does not deserve to be the subject of bullying from NC Football parents who feel like they run the town.
    Before you lash out at me, let me say I am a supporter of youth football in town and the grandson of Chet Lewis who helped bring PAL football to this town long ago. The league should be about teaching kids the game on the field but also how to conduct themselves off it. The parents who posted that sign as well as some of the commenters here have failed the children in that regard.
    Keep up the excellent work, Mike.

    • S. Ericson –
      People are upset (as I am) for keeping the names of certain people private while putting a picture of the sign with the coach’s name. If they deserve privacy, than so does he….

      • Those anonymous people fear retribution against their children by the “adults” running NCYF and that is a credible concern given how some people in the organization conduct themselves. It is a sad state of affairs but it is what has become of youth sports in Fairfield County. NewCanaanite ran a photo of a sign left in a public space. Their job in that instance is run a photo which coincides with the story as to better illustrate what was done. The people who left the sign deserve your scorn, not NewCanaanite.

      • And I don’t think anything negative about whoever the coach is on the sign. I feel bad for him and all the kids involved in youth football but posting the picture helps demonstrate just how foolish some of these parents are.

  7. So let me get this straight….why do people volunteer to coach sports? To be railed against by hidden signs in the cover of night? To be harassed by “anonymous” emails from disgruntled parents? To be cornered in a parking lot over Junior not starting and not playing all 4 quarters? And let me figure this out….a gentleman volunteers his time to coach youth football for many years. Yes, to spend quality time with his son and to share the lessons that football brings to life. But he also shared those lessons with hundreds of boys in this town? (I did the math in my head, and it has to be hundreds of boys he has coached by now). Folks, a dear friend of mine – who played a Division 1 Sport in college – said “You learn so much more in life by losing in sports”. So this youth team is 0-5. Big deal. Wake up, New Canaan, we don’t always win here. And yes, every town LOVES beating the privileged. Next item….the coach loses his son to a broken clavicle in Game #1. And all he has done is become more passionate, more dedicated, more committed to coaching these young men. This coach has not missed a day of practice. I’d argue he has become more passionate and focused on teaching these other boys how to become better football players and better teammates – even while his son sits on the sidelines. He has turned a flag football player into a really good quarterback. He has turned “blind side” Gentle Bens into focused blocking linemen. He has made our son into a focused, empowered pursuer and tackler…..which in turn has made him a better lacrosse player. I’m scratching my head over the “Shooter Flatch’s” on the sidelines who make a scene on the field of play. I’m perplexed by “Ninja” parents hanging signs in the cover of night. I’m exasperated by the “Tiger Moms” who think their Skippy shouldn’t be yelled at by Coach Cleats (subtle “Archies” reference there). The Band Stealers Wheel sang it best: “Clowns to the left of me….jokers to the right”.

  8. Whoever posted the sign..shame on you. What lesson are you teaching your child? To be a coward? Come forward and apologize. Then maybe you can salvage some dignity for yourself and also teach your child a valuable lesson. We are all human. We make mistakes. Admit you made a big one.. Apologize.. Move on.

  9. George E: Thank you. This may go without saying, but I do want to underscore here that in no way does our coverage of local sports or anything else change based on what anyone says in a comment thread. Though I myself rarely cover our sports teams for the New Canaanite, I can assure our readers that we intend to go right along celebrating the accomplishments of local kids, including our outstanding football players who come up through NCYF and Flag and go on to play varsity under Lou—to do anything else frankly that would be a species of the retribution, real or imagined, that appears to be causing some problems already (the ugly cousin of favoritism, equally damaging). We welcome opposing viewpoints as long as they’re not attacking us or anyone else personally, and nothing posted here or on our Facebook page has felt personal to me. (I myself approve each comment submitted to New Canaanite, in any case, so the vitriolic and inappropriate comments that come in never show up on the site.)

    S. Ericson & Robin R.: Thank you both for keeping your disagreement civil. Robin, please be sure when you refer to “people” that you don’t risk a perception that you believe you’re speaking for a majority. As I relayed to one parent who is very close to this team during a phone conversation yesterday, I’ve received numerous calls, emails and texts since the article published, and the majority of those expressing concern about the story are telling me they feel it was slanted in favor of NCYF and they’re upset about that.

    In any case, with respect to the grievance (not the sign), my sense in speaking to league officials is that we may be able to report the Grievance Committee’s findings after the matter is handled internally.

  10. As a Youth Football Coach who has coached against this New Canaan Black team I find this story to be really sad. To post a sign like this berating a man who has given so much of his heart and soul and valuable time to these young men is a disgrace. I have seen this team and coaching staff in action up close and personal and they do things the right way – because of the lessons they have learned from the coach. They play good hard nosed football and display good sportsmanship from the top down. The coaches , players and parents on that team have always represented the town of NC with class. Even with his own son injured and unable to play the head coach has given 100% to make this season a positive experience for his kids. He does his best to teach the young men to love football in a SAFE and fun environment. It truly is a shame that some parent had to post a sign like that. I hope the young men on his team (especially his son) are not negatively impacted by this thoughtless act of posting a sign like this in public. After all the hundreds and hundreds of hours the coach has volunteered to these young men it is a shame. Good Luck for the rest of the season,
    Fred Lawrence Head Coach Weston 8th Grade

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