At a special meeting of the Warwick School Committee Tuesday evening, 45-year veteran Pilgrim High School Track Coach Tom Dolce was approved to resume his coaching duties for another year, following a stir that began during the committee’s Feb. 14 meeting when his coaching candidacy was removed from consideration abruptly and without a reason given publicly.
“I, as the chair, received two complaints from two different parents with regard to Mr. Dolce,” explained committee chair Karen Bachus during a public discussion of the personnel matter – which was requested by Dolce. “I felt that because of these complaints, I had a responsibility to look into these complaints.”
However, Bachus explained that neither of the parents were willing to go on record regarding the complaints or expand on them further.
“At this time, they are refusing to come forward for fear of retaliation by what they call 'the mob,’” said Bachus.
Bachus didn’t elaborate on what the parents meant by “the mob,” but Dolce did have a large group of supporters – including over a dozen current girls he currently coaches for the Pilgrim track team, some former athletes and Principal Gerald Habershaw – join him, crowding the conference room at the Gorton Administration Building.
Dolce had another supporter in school committee member David Testa, who explained his opinion that Dolce – who coached one of his daughters as a long distance runner – exemplified what a coach should be for their students.
“If she [his daughter] were here, she wouldn't be embarrassed for me to say she is not an athlete at all in any way, shape or form. She was a long-distance runner who had never run before,” he said. “He would ask her to run 3,000-meter races. She would run them and get lapped once, sometimes twice, but she finished every one. Part of that she got from her mother and I, but she didn't run for her mother and I – she ran for her coach. And he never told her to run, he asked her. To me, that speaks to coaching character. I think that's what a coach does.”
Testa pointed out that Dolce has received no complaints on his professional personnel file and has never received a less than positive review from athletic directors, and that he was recommended for re-appointment by both Superintendent Philip Thornton and athletic director Kenneth Rix. He cautioned that the committee was coming close to overstepping its bounds by blocking Dolce’s appointment without good reason.
“I understand complaints and fear of coming forward, but there's two sides to a coin, and I'm very concerned that in my opinion I don't think this committee has treated this individual fairly,” he said. “I'm very troubled by essentially taking an action because we can. I think it sets a bad precedent.”
Newly-elected school committee member Nathan Cornell said he received much correspondence on the matter, all in support of re-appointing Dolce. Kyle Adams asked Habershaw whether he had ever received a negative comment or complaint regarding Dolce during his tenure at Pilgrim. “None whatsoever,” replied Habershaw.
Committee vice chair Judith Cobden admitted that she “did not have a positive four years with him [Dolce] as a guidance counselor,” contrary to what Dolce had said in the Beacon story that ran on Feb. 26, “but I don't hold grudges like that,” she continued. “I believe in due process, and without people coming forth with their complaints, I don't know how we can utilize those complaints in any manner. They would have to be here.”
The committee voted unanimously to reappoint Dolce for another year as the Pilgrim girls’ track coach, which drew applause from his supporters in the room. Dolce said after the hearing he was “very happy to have his job back,” and that he was floored by the outpouring of support he received from the administration and both former and current student athletes.