It seems controversy has struck yet again at Trinity High School. Before practice on Jan. 10, head basketball coach Don Sansone, who replaced Abby Conklin last season when Conklin resigned over what she referred to as inconsistencies with leadership roles in the athletic department, said he was called into Trinity Athletic Director Steve Messina’s office and told his coaching contract was being terminated immediately.
“I was surprised, shocked. I had no idea it was coming,” said a befuddled Sansone, who was in the midst of a 13-3 season with the Blazers, including a five-game winning streak. There was really no explanation as to why. [Steve] just said it was his decision and that was it.”
Sansone said he believes a few influential parents may have persuaded Messina’s decision.
“There is a lot of money at Trinity and a lot of influence, and when the right people complain things change quickly,” he said. “But I thought I was doing a fine job. We were winning games and everyone was getting a good share of playing time.”
In an unusual response to a phone call left by the Wednesday Journal, Messina sent an e-mail stating only, “Thank you for your inquiry regarding Don Sansone. As I am sure that you can appreciate, I cannot discuss personnel issues with you. It is the philosophy of the athletic program at Trinity High School to put the positive development and well being of all our student athletes first and everything else second. Thank you.”
Messina did not respond to a further request for comment.
Sansone was at the center of Conklin’s departure before the start of last season. Conklin, who replaced Jason Nichols after Nichols coached Trinity to its first Elite Eight appearance in school history and was fired also with no public explanation, cited Sansone as being one of the reasons she did not return to coach the Blazers. Conklin said it was an on-going conflict with Sansone, who was her assistant coach at the time, which led to her resigning. Sansone said he was never aware of any conflict between himself and Conklin.
“If there was a problem between Abby and I during her time as head coach it was never brought to my attention,” said Sansone, who went on to coach Trinity to a 21-11 season as interim head coach last season.
Sansone, who insisted there was no criminal activity or misbehavior on his part that could have led to his firing, said he was not allowed to break the news to his players.
“I was upset with that. I wanted to at least say goodbye. I wasn’t even given that opportunity,” he said.
All three losses under Sansone this season came from top-ranked teams. The Blazers, who have been ranked as high as 13th by local newspapers this year, lost to Bolingbrook, Loyola and Benet.
In 2003 and less than two months after leading the basketball team to its first ever State quarterfinal birth, Nichols, who was also the athletic director, was let go in similar fashion. Nichols said he was never given an explanation for his firing.
“I would have stayed [at Trinity] forever,” said Nichols, who in three years led Trinity to a 68-22 record. “I didn’t want to leave.”
Michael Ciancio, an assistant coach of the junior varsity, has taken over coaching duties at the varsity level for the remainder of the season. The Blazers (14-4) fell to second-ranked Hope 46-38 at home on Saturday. They defeated Girls Catholic Athletic Conference foe Mother McAuley 69-62 on Thursday.
“The sad thing is that sometimes Trinity looks out for the Trinity name and not the girls. It’s the girls who suffer,” said Sansone.