The e-mails and calls of support and outrage are pouring in for Stacy Bilodeau, the Walpole High School girls’ basketball coach who was let go in late March after 11 years on the job.
“It’s been very nice to hear and I’m very pleased about the support from former players, and players and parents,” said Bilodeau, who said she was caught by surprise when she learned that school principal Stephen Imbusch was not renewing her one-year contract. “I’m just really sad right now about not being able to coach the girls.”
Her team went 13-8 this season and won the Bay State Conference Herget Division title. “The girls did a great job this year; I’m very proud of them,” Bilodeau said.
Imbusch would not say why he took the action, which was not endorsed by school athletic director Bill Tompkins. “Unfortunately, I cannot comment on issues pertaining to personnel,” Imbusch said in an e-mail.
But Superintendent Lincoln Lynch issued a press release Thursday saying that both he and the School Committee support Imbusch’s decision, and that the principal met with Bilodeau to tell her why her contract wasn’t renewed. “The issues behind the decision had been brought to her attention several times over the past years,” the release said.
“Principal Imbusch has a long track record of making sound decisions in the best interest of students,” Lynch said earlier. “We as adults make decisions in the best interests of the students. Some are popular and some aren’t.”
Parent Bill Stedman is among those who are upset that Bilodeau will not be back at Walpole High School, where she was a standout athlete until graduating in 1998. Stedman credits Bilodeau with mentoring his daughter, Caroline, who in her senior year at Amherst College in 2012 was named Division 3 national Player of the Year.
“Caroline learned a lot from Stacy — discipline and focus and taking the sport seriously,” he said. “She was a tough coach, but a fair coach. And she’s given her heart and soul to the program. I think they owe it to her [to provide a reason for letting her go]. It seems crazy. It seems that nobody who supported Stacy or liked her was consulted on this.”
Bilodeau’s assistant and the junior varsity and freshmen coaches said they also are not returning next year.
“I was coaching because Stacy was coaching,” said Danielle Collins, the junior varsity coach for the past five years, who was on the 2004 Walpole High team that won a state title under Bilodeau. “If she’s not there, it’s not Walpole basketball. I don’t envy the person who is going to [replace her].”
Collins, an assistant field hockey coach at Brown University, said Bilodeau told her she was not given a reason for being let go. But Collins and others said that parents who complained about their children’s lack of playing time or the competitiveness of the program might be behind the decision.
“I believe it was too much parental influence,” said Jim Bruce, whose daughter Darci was a senior on this year’s team. “Too many kids are coddled. Some kids want to be a starter from the get go.”
Bruce’s wife, Andrea, said she knew other parents had complained.
“I don’t know if it has anything to do with playing time,” she said. “Stacy definitely is a yeller, but most coaches are at the varsity high school level. It’s heartbreaking to me. I just hold Stacy on a pedestal. She’s done so much for my daughter, mostly off the court as a mentor.”
Mark Breen, a member of the School Committee, said the board was not consulted on the decision, which was the principal’s responsibility. But he added that “it was not an ethical breach or something that would reflect poorly on Stacy. [If it were,] I can be fairly certain that I would be made aware of it.”
Breen also said that while Bilodeau was successful as a coach — her overall record was 175 wins against 78 losses — she was not tenured.
“From what I understand she is very passionate, and has her supporters,” he said. “But I know she has her detractors, as any coach has. The principal had a set of concerns and made a decision. And I’m really not in a position to elaborate on why. It’s his call; it’s his building.”
Darci Bruce said she and a group of teammates went to talk to the principal last week.
“I just wanted to let him know how much I appreciated what [Bilodeau] has done for me, and what a great coach she was,” she said.
Bilodeau, who works as a Nike representative at Prime Time Sports, said she does not know whether or where she will coach next year.