Connie LaRose fired as Eagle girls’ hoop coach
BRISTOL — Mount Abraham Union High School Athletic Director Devin Wendel informed Eagle girls’ basketball Coach Connie LaRose, 78, on Monday, June 13, she would not return after 31 seasons guiding the program.
During her tenure, LaRose’s Eagle teams compiled a 462-222 record, reached 11 Division II finals, and won five D-II titles, four of them since 2012. Previously she coached for two years at other schools, winning 24 games and losing 10.
Her Mount Abe program claimed its most recent title in March, when as a No. 6 seed the Eagles defeated three higher seeds on the way to the D-II crown. They rallied to defeat No. 1 seed Spaulding in the final; Spaulding had defeated Mount Abe in the regular season, 57-31.
According to LaRose the Monday firing came as a complete surprise.
“I feel like I’ve had an elephant on my chest, and I’m feeling like I can’t breathe,” LaRose said on Wednesday. “Last night, it was the middle of the night, and I couldn’t sleep at all. It was like three in the morning. And I’m still saying to myself, ‘Think, what could you possibly have done that is so bad?’”
LaRose said Wendel never gave any indication prior to the Monday meeting that there were any issues with her job performance, nor was she offered any opportunity to improve her coaching.
“I certainly think I should have been contacted or talked to, and told, ‘This is what I’d like to see changed,’ if there were issues,” she said. “But he never discussed anything with me.”
Wendel, reached earlier on Wednesday, declined to comment on reasons for LaRose’s dismissal, at first even declining to confirm she had been fired.
“I don’t have anything for you at the moment,” Wendel said.
When might you have something, he was asked.
“I’m not sure,” Wendel said.
Was LaRose fired?
“I can’t really talk to you about personnel,” he said.
Will the program have a different leader next season?
“We will have a new coach next winter,” Wendel said.
Wendel did confirm he met with LaRose on Monday, but would not say if there had been complaints about LaRose.
“What I’ve shared with you so far is all I can share at this time. That’s about it,” he said.
Was the decision his own, or made in collaboration with other Mount Abe administrators?
“I can’t really go into any further detail on that as far as process and personnel,” Wendel said.
The Independent reached out to Wendel again after speaking to LaRose in hopes of further comment on her version of their conversation and the decision.
If Wendel sheds further light on his decision or the meeting, this story will be updated online, and in Thursday’s print edition.
LaRose said that Wendel gave her two basic reasons she was fired.
One was that some potential players were leaving the girls’ basketball program because they didn’t want to play for LaRose, leading to low participation.
“He said numbers are down in the girls’ basketball program because kids, once they get through middle school, they don’t want to play for you because they say it’s not fun,” she said. “And I totally disagree with him.”
LaRose acknowledged attrition, but no more than in any program at Mount Abe or elsewhere. She said, for example, the school’s powerhouse field hockey program had to recruit players to have a JV team.
This past winter the Eagle girls’ basketball program fielded a varsity and two JV teams, and LaRose said there were 30 players in the program.
By way of comparison, according to officials at each school there are 25 athletes on two teams in the Mount Abe boys’ basketball program, 27 girls on two basketball teams at Middlebury Union, and 18 girls on two basketball teams at Vergennes Union.
LaRose also took issue with the timing of the meeting — after she had already made extensive summer commitments, including financial ones, for her team, including organizing a team camp in Maine and scheduling play in a tournament.
“The other thing is why did this meeting happen on the last day of school at 3 o’clock? Why wasn’t it done, if there wasn’t going to be one during the season, if he had issues or concerns, why wasn’t it done a week or two after the season ended?” LaRose said. “His reason to me was the spring was just too crazy, and he just didn’t get around to it.”
LaRose also acknowledged she received a handful of negative written reviews after one season that Wendel mentioned in the meeting.
She paraphrased what she said Wendel told her about the comments: “Nowadays, if you want to correct something that’s wrong you need to say something that’s really positive first, make the correction, and then end with something really positive.”
LaRose invited comparison of her coaching feedback with that given by any other high school coach, and recounted how she defended her approach to Wendel.
“I said, ‘You know, I don’t think I ever say anything hurtful, certainly not intended to be hurtful. But when you have 60- and 90-minute practices you have to get things done, and you have to get things fixed,’” she said.
Wendel also told her, according to LaRose, “You make these offhand negative remarks.’”
LaRose said her response was, “To you, another adult … I was talking to you, not the kids.”
She told the Independent, “If I say something between two adults in the gym, I figure it’s between two adults in the gym.”
LaRose, like most other coaches, makes candid remarks about players. The Independent has not heard her make negative comments to athletes in the past 25 years.
“I pride myself on how I act around those kids,” she said. “Always. It’s very important to me.”
LaRose wouldn’t rule out the chance that someone was upset by after overhearing a remark and reported it.
“I’m not saying it isn’t possible,” she said. “But I just don’t know.”
LaRose also recalled the initial stages of her conversation with Wendel. She said he asked her if she was thinking of retiring, and asked about the qualifications of a potential replacement.
LaRose said she answered that, “We’ve got an exciting 10th-grade class,” and that she was looking forward to blending them with returning players.
Soon afterward LaRose learned she would not be asked back, and she remains baffled.
“I keep thinking there is something I’ve done they haven’t come out and thrown at me that must have been horribly, horribly wrong,” she said.
Ultimately, LaRose said she refused to step down.
“I asked him again, and he brought up those two things, negative comments (and program numbers),” LaRose said. “And I said, “I’ll tell you one thing, Devin, I’m not going to resign to make this easy for you …
“If my legacy has to be I got fired, then so be it.”
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