Supporters Rallying For Neptune Coach Ken O’Donnell
A group of alumni and former players have rallied to push for the return of veteran Neptune boys basketball coach Ken O'Donnell, who has not yet been re-approved by the Neptune Board of Education to come back for his 24th season in 2014-15.
The Board of Education's next meeting is on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Shark River Hills Elementary School, where the BOE will most likely approve the boys basketball coach for next season, whether it's O'Donnell, who re-applied for the job, or one of the other applicants for the position, which include several current or former Shore Conference head coaches. A group of supporters is expected to attend the meeting to speak out for O'Donnell.
O'Donnell is one of the most successful coaches in Shore Conference history and the only coach in state history to lead boys and girls teams to NJSIAA Group titles. He has a career record of 570-189 and has led the boys team to four Shore Conference Tournament titles and two NJSIAA Group III titles. He is the only boys coach in Shore Conference history to lead a team to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final, which he did in 2002. Between division, holiday tournament, SCT and the state tournament, his teams have won 43 championships in his career. His four SCT titles in the last 15 years are only two less than every other public school in the Shore combined over that span.
O'Donnell also has served as the commissioner of the long-running Jersey Shore Basketball League and has run the high school summer league at Hoop Group Headquarters in Neptune and an outdoor summer league in Belmar.
At Neptune's previous Board meeting last month, former Neptune star Jake Jones and former Neptune women's star AnnMarie Blaney Jones spoke in support of O'Donnell along with Isaias Calderon, the father of former star Ikie Calderon and rising senior guard Cameron Calderon. Felicia Ford and Doug Johnson, two parents of players from this season's team who are graduating, attended and spoke out against O'Donnell, advocating a change.
Former Neptune teacher Joe Bongiovanni, former BOE member Mike Fornino and former athletic director and assistant coach Walt Mischler as well as Randy Reynolds of the Red & Black Boosted Club also spoke out to support O'Donnell. Also, former players Marques Alston, Shaun Hubbard, Mike McGhee, Robert Layton, Joyce Bell, Chrissy Lukosius, and Jesse Ryan were there in support.
Also, Bill King, a Neptune graduate and longtime supporter of the basketball program who was the public relations director for the Milwaukee Bucks for more than 20 years, has sent multiple letters to the Board of Education over what he believes is an injustice. In his letter, he alleges that the committee formed to decide who gets the job contains members who are personally biased against O'Donnell or are friends with BOE members who are personally biased against O'Donnell. Board President Jason Jones told The Coaster that there was no individual being targeted.
"It pains me to learn that one of our own, a man who not only ranks among the all-time great players in Neptune basketball history, but a man who has dedicated his entire adult life to Neptune as a teacher in the classroom and a teacher on the court as the head basketball coach and a leader in the Jersey Shore basketball community and who has led the Scarlet Fliers to unparalleled success may not be given the opportunity to retire from the program on his own terms,'' King wrote in the letter. "I also take the position that the BOE should not be fielding much less reacting to complaints of this nature from parents of players. The BOE should be operating at the 10,000 ft. level. lt is the job of the athletic/activities director to field and manage parent complaints about who makes the team and playing time should a response from the coach not satisfy an individual parent."
O'Donnell, who starred as a point guard at Neptune in the 1960s, has expressed the desire to coach one more season before retiring. Administrators cannot comment directly on personnel issues, but Jones said the notion of revamping the entire basketball program was brought before the Board last year and has been revisited this year.