Stewart Lewack is a Senior Vice President at Bank of America, and a parent at Hingham High School.
Ryan Punitri is the long time Hingham girls soccer coach.
He’s also one of the best coaches in the state, successfully guiding the team to three straight state championships from 2014-16 during his 13 year tenure. But as a result of Stewart’s activism he was fired on account of hurting Stewart’s crotch fruits feelings.
Hingham collected three consecutive Division 2 state championships from 2014-2016 and finished undefeated twice during that run. From 2014-2019, Puntiri’s teams were a combined 88-9-12 with a 17-2 record in tournament games while sending multiple players on to play in college. The school has decided to not renew his contract following allegations by four players that he verbally abused them. The Globe report said the bullying accusations stretched back to the 2016 season, but Puntiri said he believes they stem mostly from the past two years.
“I flat out reject the allegations of bullying,” Puntiri said. ”[I used] constructive criticism at times to correct behaviors. I’ve been a teacher for 20 years [in the Braintree middle-school system] and there hasn’t been a blemish on my record. I don’t get everything right — I make mistakes with my 3-year-old daughter every day — but I certainly own up to those. But mistreating student-athletes, that is not something I believe in or do. I’m not in this to mistreat kids. I’m in this to promote female athletes, and I think we’ve done a very good job of that at Hingham.”
Parents like this do such a disservice to not only their kids, but other people’s children as well, when they force quality coaches out of their jobs. They perceive any sort of constructive criticism as “bullying,” instead of viewing it for what it is – help. Yes, a coach can hurt your feelings when he yells at you or tells you you’re not doing a good job. If your child tells you this then the appropriate response is to tell them to listen to the coach, work harder, and become better. What this coach is doing is clearly working and the girls are privileged to be under his tutelage. The temporary pain of hurt feelings are a small price to pay for the life skills you develop by learning how to overcome adversity and better yourself.
But Stewart didn’t like that.
Stewart Lewack, whose daughter was not one of the players who filed the initial complaints, disputed Puntiri’s claim, telling The Patriot Ledger in an email on Wednesday: “There’s nothing wrong with coaching teamwork or hustle, but when you constantly berate players to the point of causing emotional harm, and players tell an internal investigation they felt bullied, then dismissal is justified.
Emotional harm? It’s soccer. Your spoiled brat of a daughter got her feelings hurt because she’s not perfect, and likely has never been told that her entire life. If your kid ever comes to you and tells you that their state championship winning coach is “bullying them,” then the appropriate response is to tell them to get over it.
“If any parent tried Ryan’s coaching tactics in the workplace, they’d be summarily fired. Why is it OK to accept that behavior on school playing fields? The superintendent and school administration clearly found enough evidence during the investigation to notify parents of its findings. As parents and educators of these young women, we should have zero tolerance for this type of conduct.”
Coaching tactics in the workplace? Anyone who’s ever had a boss has likely been reprimanded and redirected by that boss when they did something wrong. Bosses don’t care about the feelings of their employees, and coaches should prepare them for that reality.
Here’s the real reason Stewart was upset.
Puntiri said the problems began in the fall at the team’s season-ending banquet, at which the coaching staff announced the captains for the 2021 season, as chosen by a vote of the returning players. Puntiri said he and his wife were “verbally assaulted” by a woman whose daughter had not been selected as captain.
“That stirred the pot there,” Puntiri said. “This particular woman, who five minutes earlier was taking pictures and smiling, then all of sudden became very, very hostile. Supposedly that parent went to the superintendent’s office the very next morning [and began the process that led to Puntiri’s dismissal]. She [accused me] of bullying her daughter. This parent grabbed a few other people who weren’t happy for various reasons — all-star selections, accolades, leadership roles, whatever — and they kind of came after me.”
Been there before. These end of the year banquets are always drama. I used to coach the track and cross country teams at Shepherd Hill, and we had to give out an MVP trophy every season. One year I gave it to a senior instead of a sophomore who was probably our best overall runner, because the senior beat him a few times and was the clear leader of the team. I got hounded with emails from the parent of the sophomore and had to have a meeting with the AD about it. I’ve been dragged into countless meetings about kids who had their feelings hurt as well, because that’s what happens when gutless administrators empower entitled children and their overbearing parents. These people always think they can do your job better than you.
The principal and AD both investigated and found nothing wrong but were overruled by the superintendent.
Puntiri said that the decision to not renew his contract was made by Hingham Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Austin and that athletic director Jim Quatromoni and principal Richard Swanson played no part. Puntiri said Hingham’s assistant principals conducted an investigation and “they came back with no findings [of verbal abuse]. And then it got sent to the superintendent and somehow that [conclusion] got changed.”
Paul Austin was just hired last year.
A carpetbagger who wasn’t around for any of the state titles comes into a new job, immediately caves to parents, and overrules the administrators who are supposed to be in charge of the hiring of coaches. I can speak from experience that this is unprecedented. Superintendents never get involved in hiring decisions for coaches. It’s not in their purview, and it’s not their job. They’re supposed to be busy and not have time for stuff like this, but clearly the wealth and influence of Stewart Lewack intimidated him into taking action.
Players are coming out of the woodwork to have Coach Punitri’s back too.
“Honestly, it was shocking to me. I didn’t see this coming,” said Kate Falvey, who played four seasons at Hingham (2015-18) and now is a freshman at UMass-Amherst. Falvey said after the news broke on Wednesday she and several of her former Hingham teammates spent hours “texting each other in disbelief.”
“Considering all that he’s done for the Hingham girls and youth soccer programs I’m really stunned by the entitlement on the part of some parents and players,” said Jamie Clougherty, who also won three state titles for Puntiri and served as a captain on the undefeated 2016 team. “Parents aren’t the coaches. None of us had a problem with it and I find it hard to believe that his character has done a 180-degree turn in the three years since I’ve graduated. College soccer might be a rude awakening for some of [the players who complained about him] if this is their mentality.”
“In my opinion he is one of the best coaches I’ve ever had,” Harkins said. “My sister also played for him, and her freshman year the seniors were crying because they had qualified for the tournament. My senior year, we were crying because we didn’t win states. To me, that speaks volumes as to how he turned the program around.”
It’s a proud day for our girls’ soccer coach, Ryan Puntiri, and Caroline Harkins ‘18, who signed her Letter of Intent to attend @holy_cross. HHS wishes all the best to a Future Crusader! pic.twitter.com/rHWdta6OG6
— Rick Swanson (@rswansonhingham) February 7, 2018
Those kids were winners. They responded to no-nonsense coaching by becoming better soccer players and they went on to win state titles and play in college.
But those kids all graduated and the news kids are responding to their own mediocrity in the most mediocre way possible.
However, he acknowledged that this past season did not always go smoothly as Hingham struggled to a 6-8-5 finish that still included a playoff berth. “This year was a little different,” he said. “The team culture has always been a staple of the Hingham girls soccer program, and this year it felt like the team was a little divided. It didn’t feel like the culture was what it had been in in the past.”
Puntiri has built the Hingham program from a cellar-dweller to one of the preeminent contenders in the state. When he came to the team in 2007, the Harborwomen had not qualified for the tournament in nearly a decade. Puntiri missed the tournament only once over the last 13 seasons.
Hey Stewart – maybe your daughter just isn’t very good. Maybe if she tried harder the coach wouldn’t have to get on her. Maybe if she responded to constructive criticism by listening to her coach they’d win more than 6 games. Maybe if you did your job as a Dad and told her that you wouldn’t be setting her up for failure.
This same thing happened to me at Doherty High School in 2007. I was the track coach there for 3 years. We were pretty good and I was one of those coaches who demanded the most of the kids I coached because it brought out the best in them. One of the parents was Wendy Fenner, a gym teacher at DHS. She didn’t like me because her son missed a lap in the 2 mile one time at the Reggie Lewis Center and got a personal best because he didn’t run the full 2 miles. I told him about it right after the race and he got mad at me because apparently hearing the truth crushed the fantasy that he magically got 40 seconds faster overnight. He complained to his mother and at practice the next day he told me he didn’t have to listen to me because his mother was going to take my job. A couple months later she applied for my job, as did I, and the principal chose me because the team was having a lot of success. She responded by filing a grievance with the union, claiming to have a contractual right to the job since she taught at Doherty and I taught at a different school in Worcester. The union president was my former 6th grade teacher and she did not want to assist this woman, knew it was wrong, but had her hands tied by the contract. Wendy Fenner ended up taking the job by force, and I went on to coach at Millbury and Shepherd Hill. Clive McFarlane of all people had my back and wrote a story about it.
I wasn’t the first and I sure won’t be the last. Neither will Coach Punitri, so long as cowardly administrators continue to enable parents like this. The worst example I’ve ever seen was 3 years ago in Braintree when 3 parents wrote some of the most insane emails you’ve ever seen to State Championship girls basketball coach Kristen McDonnell. Just like Punitri she held her kids accountable, got results, and produced young women who went on to do great things. But because some parents of mediocre children didn’t like her and thought they could do better, she was fired. The blog blog I wrote on it was read over 250,000 times, and remains the 4th biggest blog ever published on Turtleboy. As a direct result of the outcry from it the school gave McDonough her job back and the Wamps have gone on to win two more state championships.
Hingham is right next to Braintree, and has the same kind of clientele. Coach Punitri should immediately be reinstated and Paul Austin should resign in disgrace. I will use my platform to call out parents like this every chance I get, because I’ve seen firsthand the damage they cause to kids and coaches.
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