Coach Cacckello to step down after 13 years

Enterprise file photo — Tyler Murphy

In the heat of a game, Frank Cacckello mapped out strategy last winter as his team members huddled about him. After 13 years of coaching varsity girls’ basketball at Guilderland, he is resigning at the end of this season. He told the athletic director, Regan Johnson, two week’s ago that he’d be stepping down, before a players mother complained about him, according to Johnson.

GUILDERLAND — A mother of a Guilderland varsity girls’ basketball player contacted The Enterprise this week with concerns about the team’s longtime coach, Frank Cacckello. Last night, she withdrew her statements, saying she wished the coach well, and would no longer petition for his removal.

The school board president, Barbara Fraterrigo, responding to rumors about Cacckello’s conduct, said the school board “absolutely had no indication” of anything when it went into executive session on Jan. 21; Cacckello’s name was not mentioned.

She said he had announced his plans to step down from the post before any complaints had surfaced.

“Had he not resigned, and charges were put forward,” said Fraterrigo, “the board would take a very serious look at that.”

Fraterrigo also said that the letter from the concerned mother had arrived after the board meeting. She also said that she knew Cacckello personally, as he had gone to school with her children.

“Frankie was always very outgoing, enthusiastic, hyperactive, but a very loyal friend,” Fraterrigo said. “I’ve never heard him swear or seen him throw chairs.”

She also commented on a change in culture with discipline at schools, whether in the classroom or on the playing field.

“It’s a universal phenomenon,” said Fraterrigo. “If I did something moderately bad at school, I’d have double punishment, both at school and at home. Now, a teacher is uncomfortable even calling a parent to talk about unacceptable behavior.”

She also speculated that perhaps there were difficulties for some parents having a male coach females. “I don’t think that is warranted,” she said of any such concerns, but some parents may feel more comfortable with a female coach. She concluded, “He really tries to get the best out of his players. It may have been a personality conflict. My gut feeling is that his heart is in the right place.”

On Wednesday, Cacckello told The Enterprise that he’d be resigning as Guilderland’s varsity girls’ basketball coach at the end of this season. He said he knew coming into this season that it would be his last, but his resignation became official upon telling Athletic Director Regan Johnson two weeks ago.

“I wanted to make sure that I built the program up, left it in a better place than when I started,” said Cacckello, who has spent 13 years as the varsity basketball coach and a physical education teacher at Farnsworth Middle School. “I think we’re right there. We have great kids.”

Cacckello said that no one has raised any serious concerns with him about how he coaches. “I’m just focused on the season,” he said. “I can’t control what people say or do. I’m focused on basketball. I give the kids the best experience possible.”

Johnson said on Wednesday that Cacckello is focused on a positive end to the season for Guilderland. “There may be another opinion about Frank, but he cares about basketball, the girls, and the whole program,” said the athletic director. “He’s very passionate about the sport, and has worked very hard over time.”

As spectators, parents were more supportive and less involved 25 to 30 years ago, Johnson said, but that has changed. To get the most out of the students, parents need to be involved, he said.

Now, there’s a term “helicopter parent” — in this case, a parent who hovers over the coach.

“There’s no fault to the parents,” said Johnson. “I’m a parent who loves his children very much, so I don’t want to comment on other parents’ rituals. We decide what is right for our children, but we’re not always going to get the right answer. Still, we should ask questions.”

Parents have the right to question coaches about playing time and issues like that, Johnson says, but the coach might not change. Johnson said he asks all coaches to keep open communication with the parents.

What does Johnson value in Guilderland coaches?

“Passion, love for working with students, making it fun, and exuding energy for the sport,” he said. “They should be able to relate with the kids, but, obviously, that’s changed with the kids’ exposure to technology.”

The environment around an athlete has changed — more things are accessible at a faster rate — but a coach is still a coach. For Cacckello, being a teacher in the Guilderland district could only have helped his coaching.

Johnson says you can scratch off the word “coach” and replace it with “teacher.” It’s practically the same skill set, and the subject matter is very similar.

“With both, you have to have the ability to communicate, create passion, and have fun,” said Johnson. “Good teachers can translate to good coaches.”

Overall, Johnson said, fewer teachers are becoming coaches within their districts, but Guilderland is in the top half of the Suburban Council in district employees who coach.

“Trust me, I wish we had more,” said Johnson. ‘It takes a lot of time, a lot of commitment.”

Unlike Cacckello, Johnson has never coached girls, but he has had many conversations with males who coach girls. At Guilderland, Curtis Snyder coaches the varsity girls’ soccer team, and Lou Marino coaches varsity softball. It takes different skills to coach the opposite gender, and Johnson thinks it may work out better for a male coach if he has a daughter.

Responding to the mother’s comment that Cacckello yelled at “the girls,” Johnson said, “He doesn’t coach boys, no boys on the team, so if he yells, it’s at girls. Plenty of coaches yell; they’re trying to relay a message from yards away. You can’t send a smoke signal.”

However, if a coach is going to shout during a game, it’s not appropriate for the coach to criticize the players in public, Johnson said. “Coaches have to control their own behavior,” he said. “If there’s an issue, it can be dealt with constructively.”

Cacckello has been coaching basketball for 20 years, and he says that it was “dumb luck.” He played three sports in high school — baseball, football, and basketball — and basketball was his third best.

“I don’t know, I just fell in love with it,” he said.

Cacckello’s first coaching job was with the Shaker High School junior-varsity basketball team. From there, he spent one year as head coach at Southern Vermont College; he was the youngest Division III coach in the nation. Then, he coached and taught at South Glens Falls for five years before landing his “dream job” at Guilderland.

Johnson said that coaching resembles dog years because you have to organize and improve the program during each off-season.

“I’ve been a head coach for 20 years, so it seemed like time for a break,” Cacckello said. “Now, maybe I can go assist somebody.”

“These coaches live and breathe this,” Fraterrigo said. “They don’t have a free minute.”

— Melissa Hale-Spencer contributed the comments from Barbara Fraterrigo.

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