Samantha Caico is “disgusted with the situation.” She’s not the only one with ties to City Honors athletics who is concerned about the fate of Deborah Matos.
The future of the longtime volleyball and softball coach of the Centaurs is in doubt once again amid bullying allegations from a parent filed under the Dignity of All Students Act. The situation is expected to be dealt with during a 1 p.m. Tuesday special meeting of the Board of Education at City Hall. It is the second time since 2013 that Matos finds herself fighting to keep her coaching job.
On Sept. 23, 2013, Matos was placed on administrative leave from coaching and her teaching position while the district investigated parental complaints of excessive and abusive behavior toward players. The complaints then were filed by Jim Gribbins and Meg Gifford. Matos was reinstated to her teaching and coaching post two weeks later after current and past players along with parent rallied in her defense. Parents for 14 of the 16 children who played volleyball for Matos in 2013 signed a letter in support of her, according to a past News story.
A source close to the situation told The News on Monday night Gifford filed the latest complaint.
Neither Matos nor Buffalo School board member Mary Ruth Kapsiak of the Central District, City Honors’ location, returned messages left by The News seeking comment. Buffalo Public Schools Athletic Director Aubrey Lloyd referred questions to district spokesperson Elena Cala.
Cala wrote in an email: “The district does not comment on personnel matters.”
But all signs point toward Matos’ fate being discussed or decided in Room 801 shortly after lunch Tuesday. Practices to open the season begin Aug. 17 and the next regularly scheduled board meeting isn’t until Aug. 26. Because Tuesday’s meeting is a special session, there is no public-comment period on the schedule.
Matos supporters plan to make their presence felt at the meeting, though, because, “the district has recommended that Matos step down from coaching,” according to an email to The News from current City Honors assistant volleyball coach and former player Sherrell McLean. That’s something they don’t want to see happen.
“It’s crazy this is happening again,” McLean said. “I just think obviously the allegations aren’t valid. … She has a lot of respect in the volleyball community. She has a lot of support from the alumni.”
McLean said alumni and supporters at the meeting will wear City Honors volleyball T-shirts and apparel. Shannon Lynch, another Matos booster, said some will hold signs at the meeting. While they won’t be allowed to speak, the alumni hope the show of support speaks volumes.
“We’re doing the best we can to support her,” said Lynch, a 2015 graduate and volleyball player.
“They’re just going to be there, strength in numbers just to have a visual of how many people have been affected by coach and how many people support her and owe their lives to her,” said Caico, who just completed her senior season and sixth year of softball with the Centaurs and plans to play club softball at Canisius College.
Caico won’t be in attendance because of job responsibilities but said most players who have had Matos as coach don’t understand why her job is in jeopardy.
Caico said she is a demanding coach but most successful coaches usually have that adjective attached to their descriptions. Matos led City Honors to the state championship in volleyball in 2009 and her teams contend regularly for Section VI championships. City Honors’ softball program also surprised many by having success playing an independent schedule with its winning season coming to an end in the Section VI Class B-1 semifinals against eventual state semifinalist Alden, 3-2.
“She keeps it real with us and I think that’s a problem people have with her,” Caico said of Matos’ no-nonsense coaching style. “I’ve known coach since I was 12 years old. She is the reason I started playing softball. I’m honestly disgusted by the situation because she always had so much confidence in all of us and saw our potential even when we couldn’t.”
That includes Caico, who had all of one year of house league softball under her belt when she tried out for City Honors as a seventh-grader. According to Caico’s father, Bob, Matos liked his daughter’s hustle, work ethic and willingness to put in the work to improve. That’s how she made varsity as a seventh-grader. Two years later, Samantha became the starting pitcher. Two years after that, team captain.
Even Samantha had a blunt-to-the-point-and-not-fun conversation with Matos that helped her become a better pitcher.
"I had a lot of trouble with confidence when I was playing and she told me 'if you don't play with confidence then I can't have you in the game,'" she recalled. "That really struck me and made me grow. My senior year I was such a leader and so confident in myself."
“She can be rough on a player but she’s not verbally abusive,” said Bob Caico, who also had a son play hockey at Hutch-Tech. “Debbie yelled at my daughter. My daughter came home crying a couple times saying coach said this and coach said that but the next day she went out there to try harder and the coach was all good with her. It’s just a learning thing. It’s how she coaches. But if you can’t mentally do it and you’re going to cry all the time, a parent is going to get upset, especially a mother.
“My daughter loves her. She wouldn’t have played high school softball if not for Deb Matos.”
But will that be enough to sway the board?
“I don’t know,” McLean said.