In 2021, the Rockville Centre Board of Education voted against rehiring South Side High School girls’ soccer coach Jennifer Abgarian and assistant coach Chris Aloisi, despite the support for the coaches from then Superintendent June Chang and Athletic Director Carol Roseto.
But according to a recent ruling by arbitrator Dennis J. Campagna, obtained by Newsday, the district acted wrongfully and was ordered to pay the former coaches the salaries they would have received if they had remained on as coaches for the 2021 fall season. The payment amounts were not disclosed in the decision, which was handed down in January.
Abgarian and Aloisi guided the Cyclones to the Nassau Class A championship in the spring of 2021, after the fall 2020 season was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was Abgarian’s third season as head coach and the first county title for the team since 2014. During her time in the district, Abgarian helped lead the squad to four consecutive postseason runs and was voted Newsday’s Girls’ Soccer Coach of the Year in the spring 2021 season.
At its meeting on July 21, 2021, the school board voted 3-2 not to rehire Abgarian. The decision was met with widespread derision from the public, which included claims that one of the trustees voted “no” because of a personal issue related to the program that dated back several years.
Coaching positions in the district have one-year terms and must be reapplied for each year. With the approval of the superintendent and the athletic director, the final step is a vote by the board. The policy had been in place for over three decades, and this was the first time that a coach was not hired after receiving the approval of both administrators.
Then-board President John O’Shea and Trustees Christine Ferazani and Erica Messier voted against rehiring Abgarian and Aloisi, while current board President Kelly Barry and Tara Hackett voted to rehire them. The trustees refused to answer questions about the decision, saying they were advised by an attorney not to speak publicly about personnel matters.
Karen Parker, vice president of the South Side High School Booster club at the time, told the Herald that she was “shocked and disappointed” by the decision and that the community was entitled to know why it was made.
“I think the community deserves answers to questions about the motivation of these three board members and justification of their vote,” Parker said. “If the board knows information about these coaches that the community doesn’t, then they should say so, even if the specifics can’t be discussed.”
A group of 12 South Side soccer parents came to the defense of the coaches in a letter addressed to Chang.
Supporters of the decision said that Aloisi was not in a position to select the roster, because he would show favoritism to players who pay to play for the East Meadow Soccer Club, a travel team that he worked for.
Abgarian was not affiliated with any outside soccer programs and was not met with the same level of pushback. Aloisi was an unpaid volunteer during the 2021 season, and both he and Abgarian are tenured middle school teachers in the district.
Members of the Rockville Centre teachers union filed a grievance on behalf of both coaches, which was denied by the school board and was taken to Campagna, the independent arbitrator.
“The arbitrator’s decision validates 100 percent that we hadn’t done anything wrong,” Abgarian told Newsday. “Our goal in teaching and coaching was always to serve the district and its students.”
Campagna ruled that the board had acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner in 2021, and added that the reasoning for its decision not to appoint two “clearly qualified” coaches remains unclear.
South Side eventually hired Judi Croutier, a former Cyclones coach who previously helped the team win eight Long Island championships and five state titles. In the fall 2021 season, the squad won the Long Island Class A championship and made it to the state title match, but was defeated by New Hartford 2-1. Croutier returned for the fall 2022 season, in which the team qualified for the Class A playoffs but lost in the first round.
According to Newsday, Abgarian and Aloisi both said they had not yet decided whether they plan to submit applications to coach the soccer team in the fall.