Coach Reale in The Eye of a Storm

‘Every Pitch, Every Inning’ has been the mantra
His philosophy, said Coach Reale, had to do not just with softball but with accountability and responsibility in life. Jack Graves

Lou Reale, who recently was named one of the top eight high school softball coaches in the United States, and who stands fourth on New York State’s all-time win list, said Sunday he had been forced by the East Hampton School District’s superintendent, Rich Burns, to retire.

Burns had not returned a call for comment as of press time.

Jason Biondo, one of Coach Reale’s supporters, said Monday that he expected there would be a large turnout at Tuesday evening’s school board meeting. “It’s been getting quite a lot of buzz on social media recently,” said Biondo, who, with a fellow parent, Rich Swanson, has been overseeing developmental games for 7th through 12th graders at East Hampton’s Herrick Park. His daughter, Raven, a ninth grader, is a backup catcher on the team.

Coach Reale wrote a retirement letter, though he said he’d done so only under duress as the result of a relentless four-year campaign by Bill Fleming, an attorney, whose daughter Catharine, as far as the veteran coach could recall, “never played a game for me.”

Fleming said, when asked Friday if he had been “campaigning” against Coach Reale, “The last time I campaigned for anything was when I ran for the Legislature in 1983.”

“That’s a lie,” said the coach, who’s in Hawaii at the moment. “I heard that three years ago he told Joe [Vas, the district’s athletic director] that he’d pay my salary if I wouldn’t coach.”

Fleming, who initially demurred when asked to provide The Star with letters he wrote to the superintendent and other administrative officials in May and June that roundly criticized Coach Reale, dropped them off, with three letters by students and one by another parent, Jody Kalafut, Monday morning.

Kalafut alleged that the coach had overseen “a reign of terror. . . . He feels the best way to coach is by yelling and berating the girls. . . . Never does a word of encouragement cross his lips. He should be yelling at himself for putting his players in a no-win situation.”

“Two weeks ago I asked Catharine, now three years away from the varsity, if she would play softball if the coach were replaced,” Fleming said at one point in his letter of May 18. “She said, ‘Oh yes, Dad, I never realized how much I missed softball.’ But make no mistake, this is not about Catharine, who has found another outlet [varsity girls lacrosse] for her energy. This is about simple respect and decency.”

All the writers were agreed that the coach, who has always been known as demanding — the mantra, “Every Pitch, Every Inning,” has been on the inside wall of the home team’s dugout since his arrival here from Bayport in 1995 — had become so verbally abusive of late that few students wanted to play for him anymore.

Just a month ago, Coach Reale said, after handing out awards to three of his young players, Maddie Schenck, Sam Merritt, and Dylan Schleider, that he was looking forward to another year.

“I heard Burns said they wanted to go in a different direction, that they weren’t so much interested in winning than in participation,” Coach Reale said, adding that there was more to his philosophy than softball. “It’s about how you lead your life. Are you going to beaccountable, a responsible person? Why settle for mediocrity? Don’t settle for a B when you can get an A.”

Coach Reale said he would definitely reconsider what he considers a forced resignation if he were able to continue on.

Fleming, recalling a line from a speech by Cicero, said that the facts spoke for themselves, one of which, to wit, was that Coach Reale’s teams in the past three years had been made up largely of raw recruits, not upperclassmen.

“As for that,” said Coach Reale, who in a 26-year career has made the playoffs in all but the past three years, “to say that these kids are less is wrong! Casey Walecko was all-state as an eighth grader. Shoreham-Wading River had three or four eighth graders on their team this year, which made it to the semifinals. As for the lack of upperclassmen, we had no jayvee. It’s not just here, it’s happening in a lot of programs all over Suffolk County. That’s the way it is.”

“This yell-at-em and yank-em style is not old school,” Fleming wrote. “I know old school. . . . No one, and not one of you, can tell me a teacher would be tolerated for this conduct.”

“I offer this to the three of you on my way up the chain of command. The destruction of a proud program is up to you. It is almost here! One more season should complete the disintegration and waste so many eager kids from Little League. Shall we bring up seventh graders?”

“It is time,” he continued, “to offer the coach a distinguished retirement. Absent his resignation you are duty bound to your students to let him go.”

Erin Bock Abran, who played on the 2001 team that is to be inducted into East Hampton High School’s Hall of Fame in the fall, and who was Coach Reale’s assistant “for three or four years” recently, before giving birth to two children, said, “Reale taught us the realities. He used to say softball was fun, that if we wanted to know what stress was just wait until we had to make a living, raise kids, and pay bills. He taught us how to do things that we didn’t think we could do, and he not only helped his players get into colleges on scholarships, but also others, like Brynn Maguire, who also played field hockey and became an all-American. He made a video for her and he also did that for Emily Janis. . . . He’s been the program. He made it.”

“He won’t shower you with compliments,” she continued. “He taught us that you’ve got to work hard to get what you want. I’ve been talking to a lot of alumnae in the past few weeks, and they all feel the same way. . . . He’s a softy at heart.”

For coverage of Tuesday night's school board meeting, click here.