By Dan Guttenplan
---- — AMESBURY — Jerry Mondalto avoided Amesbury High for six years after losing his job as the school’s baseball coach in 2007.
The Amesbury High alumnus and town resident didn’t attend any baseball games, didn’t visit the school for which he served as the manager of building facilities before resigning in 2007, and didn’t maintain any relationships with Amesbury High employees.
“From that day forward, I’ve cut Amesbury off,” Mondalto said. “I go to work and come home. I enjoy my family, and I don’t really socialize with anybody. It’s just really been hard, and I still feel the same as I did (six) years ago. It’s certainly changed my lifestyle.”
Mondalto will be inducted into Amesbury’s inaugural Athletic Hall of Fame class tomorrow, along with Tony Tassinari, Joey DesRoches, Kristy Gleason, Larry Moran Jr., Leo Dupere, Nancy Klein, Pam Gleason and Tino Bertolini. The luncheon will begin at noon at Amesbury Sports Park. The induction ceremony will take place at the high school at 6:30 p.m.
Two days before he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, Mondalto broke his silence regarding his forced departure from Amesbury, granting an interview request from The Daily News.
“If you know me, you know I’m not worried about saying something I’ll regret,” Mondalto said. “I’ll always be honest. It’s how I’ve always been, and it’s not going to make me feel awkward or uncomfortable.”
Looking strictly at Mondalto’s body of work as both a coach and player at Amesbury High, his induction seems like a no-brainer. As a player, he rushed for a then-school record 2,985 yards and earned All-America in both football and baseball.
His number 22 is retired from use on the football team.
As a baseball coach from 1983 to 2007, with a break of six years between 1988 to 1993, Mondalto led teams to a cumulative record of 270-195. His 1997 team won a state title, and his 2000 team won a sectional title.
However, the way Mondalto’s coaching career ended at Amesbury left doubt as to whether he would be recognized by the Hall of Fame Committee in the inaugural class.
In Mondalto’s final season at Amesbury in 2007, he was suspended three games by then-athletic director Elizabeth McAndrews for using profane language with a player who was attempting to quit.
At the end of the season, McAndrews opened the position and hired Gene Burnham, who has coached the team to a 55-71 record in six seasons since.
When Mondalto first received word that he will be inducted into the Amesbury Hall of Fame, he considered boycotting the induction ceremonies. He has since reconsidered, feeling as if he should attend to honor his former coaches who “made a difference” like Doug Wood and Dupere.
“I didn’t really know this Hall of Fame thing was going on until I was one of the people recommended,” Mondalto said.
“It was a surprise that (Hall of Fame Committee Chair) Sam Wilmot could pull this off. It’s not easy to get things going at the high school anymore. It always seems like an uphill battle.
“But to get the call that I was in, I grew up in Amesbury and idolized a lot of the guys who came before me. To get selected in the first class is a great honor. It’s thrilling.”
The pending induction has rekindled a host of emotions for Mondalto, which include being “embarrassed,” “furious,” “humiliated” and “sad.” In preparation for the induction ceremonies, Mondalto recently took a walk around the high school only to find himself further incensed by the condition of the school he used to maintain.
On Sept. 6, he sent an email to Amesbury Mayor Thatcher Kezer, Amesbury Superintendent of Schools Michele Robinson, the Amesbury School Committee, The Daily News and former Amesbury School Committee member Teresa Axten.
In the email, Mondalto attached a PowerPoint presentation with photos of various safety hazards around the school’s track as well as comparisons between the baseball field’s condition in 2007 to present day.
He was critical of the Amesbury baseball program, the coaching at the high school in general, and the overall leadership provided by McAndrews and former Amesbury Principal Les Murray.
As of Tuesday evening, Mondalto had yet to receive a response from any of the Amesbury employees who received the email.
“There’s no loyalty, there’s no tradition, there’s nothing,” Mondalto said in an interview at The Daily News office on Tuesday.
“I’m (upset) at the way I was treated. I’m embarrassed. I go up to the school for a walk, and I’m so disappointed. Not one of those people on the email responded.
“Isn’t that sad? When I was at the school, I was told you had to respond to an email within 48 hours, a phone call within 24. That was school policy. It’s so unprofessional. All of that raw emotion came back.”
Mondalto reflected on what he believes to be the start of his demise in Amesbury — the summer before his final year at the school in 2006. That summer, he says former Superintendent of Schools Charlie Chaurette and former Assistant Superintendent David Jack offered him a raise to $75,000 per year for manager of building facilities if he relinquished his role as the Amesbury baseball coach. Mondalto said the administrators felt the public “perception” was that he prioritized baseball over his full-time job.
Mondalto agreed at first, only to change his mind a few days later. He wanted to coach his son, Roman, for his senior season.
“I told (Jack), 10 weeks with my son is worth more than the $75,000 you’re offering,” Mondalto said. “Charlie (Chaurette) comes in furious. He said he already told the School Committee I was retiring. To this day, I do not know what that was about.”
The next spring, Mondalto’s confrontation with a player who was quitting resulted in his suspension. At the end of the year, McAndrews told Mondalto she wished to move in another direction. Mondalto feels that message should have been delivered by Murray, who was Amesbury’s principal from 2001 to 2010. “After 23 years, they’re going in another direction,” Mondalto said.
“Les didn’t have the (guts) to fire me. Isn’t that a principal’s job? It was personal retaliation for something that went years back.
“If they came up with a different direction and a better candidate, and they did it for every sport, I’d be OK with it,” Mondalto said.
“But they just did it to me — the guy who put his heart and soul into Amesbury athletics.”
When contacted by The Daily News, Murray, who is now the Cape Ann League secretary/treasurer, issued the following statement:
“I would like to congratulate all the honorees who are being inducted into the new Amesbury High School Athletic Hall of Fame,” Murray wrote.
“Each candidate has distinguished himself or herself as truly deserving of this honor.”
McAndrews issued a similar statement: “I would like to congratulate all those who are to be inducted into the Amesbury Athletic Hall of Fame,” McAndrews wrote. “Each of the members of the inaugural class has distinguished himself or herself while representing Amesbury. I would also like to extend my appreciation to all of those who have worked to make the Hall of Fame possible.”
Strictly in terms of winning percentage, there have been very few coaches at Amesbury over the last 25 years who can match Mondalto. Softball coach Chris Perry is one, and former field hockey coach Gail Kelleher might be the only other. For the most part, most Amesbury programs have had a losing record over the last 10 years.
“The same kids that were losing in other sports had a 60 percent winning percentage with me,” Mondalto said. “
That’s coaching. That’s what it is. I was pretty good, and the kids liked me because I’m loyal and I support people. I walk up to the track and see this stuff, and it’s the kids who are getting (cheated). That’s sad.
“When I had the support from everybody, we had people out playing at good facilities. It was pride and tradition. We had a pretty good run. These kids don’t have that. All I ever wanted was for the kids from little Amesbury to get the same opportunities I got.”
Amesbury Hall of Fame Induction
What: Amesbury’s inaugural class in the Athletic Hall of Fame
Who: Jerry Mondalto, Tony Tassinari, Joey DesRoches, Kristy Gleason, Larry Moran Jr., Leo Dupere, Nancy Klein, Pam Gleason and Tino Bertolini.
When: Today (luncheon, noon; ceremony, 6:30 p.m.)
Where: Luncheon at Amesbury Sports Park, ceremony at AHS.