Before even coaching a game, Mary Beth Chambers is out as the St. Rose girls basketball coach.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association ruled Dec. 1 that Chambers was in violation of its 365-day rule – mandating that coaches have no contact with players outside of the scholastic season – and that she would be ineligible to coach this season. St. Rose isn't happy.
Chambers was hired in June and is a coach at the Jersey Shore Elite Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) program, according to her twitter account. She was preparing to run a St. Rose program that has been among the state's best in recent years, finishing No. 5 in last season's final ranking and having won the prestigious Shore Conference Tournament.
In a letter sent home Wednesday to players and parents – and obtained by NJ Advance Media – St. Rose president Sr. Kathleen Nace announced the decision. The letter said that in October, St. Rose self-reported the violation to the NJSIAA and submitted, as advised by the association, its own corrective action plan. That plan did not include terminating Chambers.
In the letter, Nace also said that on Oct. 30, it received a response from the NJSIAA accepting its corrective action plan, with the inclusion of two additional measures that the letter did not disclose but that also didn't include terminating Chambers.
But on Dec. 1, St. Rose received another letter from the NJSIAA mandating the termination of Chambers as coach.
In a telephone interview with NJ Advance Media Thursday, Nace contended that the NJSIAA may have felt outside pressure to alter its October decision, which Nace had interpreted as the final word.
"What I gather is that other schools had complained to the NJSIAA because in their hiring processes in the past, they had issues with the 365-day rule and they were wondering why St. Rose hadn't," Nace said.
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St. Rose initially reported the violation after an October meeting at the NJSIAA about the rule. It followed the direction of the association by including the corrective action plan.
That plan was accepted by the NJSIAA, "in its entirety," Nace said, with the Oct. 30 letter. The Dec. 1 follow-up letter requiring Chambers' termination was a shocker. On advice of counsel, Nace declined to disclose the Oct. 30 letter at this time.
"This happened 14 days before the season was supposed to start," Nace said. "Even if this happened in October, I think we'd be fighting it. But we'd certainly have more time to explore our options, and time is what is important here. It's such a disadvantage to the girls and to the team to go through this now."
According to the NJSIAA constitution, coaches may have no contact with high school student-athletes during the out-of-season period, which would include the spring and fall for basketball:
There is a period of one (1) year at the beginning of the appointing/hiring of a coach, paid/unpaid, volunteer or assistant or head coach, or at the end of the one year assignment where the coach is ineligible to be hired if that person has had contact with Student‐Athletes during the out‐of‐season time period. A coach must go an entire 365 days without any contact with team status Student‐ Athletes before they could be hired or re‐hired so as not to violate the out‐of‐season time period.
Calls to the NJSIAA were not returned Thursday.
Chambers, a St. Rose graduate, was hired in late June to after Joe Whalen resigned following a successful five-year run that included a Shore Conference Tournament title last February.
"Mary Beth is a St. Rose graduate from 1979, her daughter is an alum," Nace said. "They both won state championships during their time here. She gets it. She's a parent. She wants to do what's best for the girls and what's in the best interest of the program. She has said from the beginning, whatever it takes, she'll do it."
Assistant coach Janine Roth has been named the interim head coach, the letter said.
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BELMAR — The second floor hallways of St. Rose High School in Belmar look like any other. A bell rings and a rush of students shuffle along freshly polished floors and past bulletin boards decorated with snowflakes and ribbons. Friendly chattering and the sound of locker doors slamming echo throughout the bright, sunny corridors.
But one floor down it’s different. No one is permitted. It’s darker, quieter and about 10 degrees colder. A row of lockers sit eerily in the middle of an abandoned hallway. Classrooms have been gutted and left vacant. This is where nine feet of water rushed in from the ocean bringing with it 800 pounds of fish and ripping out a third of the school. This is what’s left nearly two months after Hurricane Sandy.
The school, nestled between the marina and the ocean, lost seven classrooms, an administrative suite, a theater, chapel, music and art room, and the cafeteria.
Nothing could have prepared us for this," said the school’s principal Sister Kathy Nace. "It’s still hard to process."
As the school rebuilds the first floor, a sense of normalcy has returned to the floors above.
And tonight, despite having no music room and no instruments (they were swept away by the storm) the annual Christmas concert went on as planned.
"These students are resilient," Nace said. "It’s a smaller show this year but I’m delighted they decided to have it. As much as possible we need to try to get back to normal."
Last night parents and community members gathered in the library for the concert which included performances from the choir, jazz band and dance team.
Of the campus’ 35,000 square feet, about 11,000 square feet were destroyed by Sandy, making it one of the hardest hit schools in the state.
In addition to the 800 dead fish pumped out of the building, five life sea turtles were found, and safely returned to the ocean. "You can imagine the smell," Nace said.
In total, Nace estimates the campus, which includes the high school, covenant and parish center, is looking at $5 million in repairs.
"It’s hard for me to say that number without crying," Nace says. "That’s almost our yearly budget."
But the school has received an outpouring of support from around New Jersey and as far as Wisconsin and Japan.
"So many people have reached out to us," said art teacher Linda Devlin. "Even though it’s very sad what happened here, so many uplifting things keep happening."
The walls inside Devlin’s art room were ripped clear away, portfolios students had prepared for college were destroyed along with 30 years of supplies, art samples and books Devlin had collected."
When classes resumed Dec. 12, Devlin assigned her students a photography project shooting the storm wreckage in Belmar.
"I had them take photos of different things from an architectural point of view," Devlin said. "What was left behind — it was skewed and it was garbage, but they’re really quite beautiful photos."
Administrators hope that by the start of the next school year the first floor will have been rebuilt. Until then, offices remain tucked into classrooms, science labs are held in mobile trailers, lunch is eaten in the gymnasium and Devlin’s art room is upstairs, leaving a health teacher to operate out of a cart.
"It’s an adjustment, but it’s temporary," Nace said looking around the devastated first floor. "We’ll be back down here, it’s just a matter of time."
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