Pierson High School varsity boys basketball head coach Fred Marienfeld was fired Thursday, January 29, in his fourth season in charge of the basketball program.
The decision was made by Pierson Athletic Director Bill Madsen, in accordance with Superintendant John Gratto and Principal Jeff Nichols, who alleged that Marienfeld violated the school’s code of conduct by discussing issues with certain players on his team in an article in The East Hampton Star.
Pierson special education teacher Christian Johns was named as the new coach and will lead the team for the rest of the year on an interim basis.
According to Nichols, Marienfeld’s position as a physical education teacher in the district will not be affected by his firing as head basketball coach, nor will any of his other coaching duties in other sports be affected.
When asked why Marienfeld was fired midseason, Nichols’s response was simply: “The district has expectations for its coaches, and Mr. Marienfeld did not meet those expectations.”
It has been a tumultuous season for Marienfeld and the Whalers, who are currently 6-5 in League VIII, 6-8 overall, and are fighting for a playoff spot in Class C.
On January 6, Marienfeld was suspended for four days after using foul language in a game against Mercy in Riverhead. His team suffered an 84-36 loss to undefeated league leader Greenport while he was serving his suspension. Following that incident, two players, senior Nick DePetris and junior Jake Federico, quit the team, and several parents of players on the team voiced complaints about Marienfeld’s conduct and treatment of the players.
The team had to host Mercy (6-4, 7-8) on Friday, the day after Marienfeld was fired, and suffered a 59-44 loss at home. First-year junior varsity coach Kevin Barron coached the team in that game before it was announced to the team after the game that Johns would be the new head coach for the remainder of the season. On Saturday, Johns coached the Whalers to a 60-34 road win over Shelter Island.
On Monday, Madsen insisted that the complaints of several parents had nothing to do with Marienfeld’s firing. Rather, he referenced a recent article in The East Hampton Star in which Marienfeld went on the record to discuss the details of his issues with certain players on the team.
In that article, Marienfeld defended himself against allegations from the parents of certain players, saying: “Their kids quit the team, one [DePetris] because he didn’t make captain, and one because he didn’t think he was getting enough playing time. They have axes to grind, and they’re casting their net out hoping to smear me.”
Later in the article, speaking of DePetris, he added: “He has a history of quitting teams, and when he quits he makes it difficult for the coach. He was the only returning player not to play in the summer league. We had 15 workouts in the fall, and he attended none of them, zero. He wasn’t a leader or a role model.”
Marienfeld also responded in the article to allegations of unfairness from the parents of Federico, saying: “Jake hadn’t played basketball since eighth grade. The two years he didn’t play hurt him. He was well behind everybody else when it came to fundamentals. I said if he worked hard, he’d get minutes. He played 11 minutes in that Mercy game. Upstate, he played nine or 10 minutes. He was getting more time.”
“The parents really had nothing to do with this decision,” Madsen said. “It wasn’t his coaching ability, and it wasn’t parents who complained. It had very little to do with that. You can’t say things about students in a negative fashion, and that’s what prompted all this.”
When asked why the decision to fire Marienfeld had to be made in the midst of the season rather than at the conclusion of the season, Madsen said simply: “It was just something that we had to act on right away. It was a situation that had to be dealt with right away.”
When asked why, if Marienfeld’s offenses were serious enough to warrant an immediate dismissal, his positions as a physical education and a junior high baseball coach were not also in jeopardy, Madsen didn’t have a specific response. “That’s a hard question to answer,” he said. “I just want to get through the basketball season. Let’s get through the next two and a half weeks and we’ll evaluate everything over and over again. I want to get through the next two and a half weeks and do what’s best for the kids.”
That task will now fall to Johns, who will attempt to guide the Whalers to a playoff berth. Johns’s coaching experience includes a one-year stint as the head coach of the Pierson girls basketball team in 2004. During that season, the Lady Whalers were moved up to League VII and struggled against more competitive teams, winning just one league game. Johns has also coached middle school boys basketball at Pierson and also had a spell as an assistant varsity boys lacrosse coach at East Hampton High School.
The Whalers were scheduled to visit Ross (4-6) on February 3 at 6:15 p.m. and will host undefeated league leader Greenport (9-0) on Friday, February 6, at 6:15 p.m. They’ll visit Stony Brook (8-1) on Monday, February 9, at 4:30 p.m., and will close out the regular season at home against Smithtown Christian (0-10) on Wednesday, February 11, at 6:15 p.m.
After defeating Shelter Island, the Whalers needed only one more win to assure that they would finish with at least a .500 record in league play, which is the requirement for advancing to the postseason.
Marienfeld led the Whalers to the Class C playoffs in every season since he has been at the helm and accumulated an overall record of 38-34 while coaching the team. His firing has created a fierce debate within the local community and will likely continue to be a topic of interest after the season is over. According to Madsen, the position for the varsity boys basketball head coaching position will be posted again next year, in keeping with the policy with all coaching positions at the school.
“We have one-year contracts, and at the end of every year, all the coaches are evaluated,” Madsen explained. “In May or June, every position is then put up for hire again.”
When asked if Marienfeld would be allowed to re-apply for the position, Madsen responded: “Absolutely.”