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City Honors volleyball coach placed on leave over parents’ abuse allegations

Deborah Matos, a longtime City Honors School volleyball coach who led the girls varsity team to the state title in 2009, was put on administrative leave Monday after at least three parents complained to administrators about excessively harsh and abusive behavior.

“We have been trying to work with the coach for three years, and she has totally ignored every attempt by parents to change what we consider to be a hostile situation,” said Jim Gribbins, the father of one of the girls on the team.

“The methods she uses are sometimes extremely harsh,” said Meg Gifford, who also has a daughter on the team. “They’re abusive and insensitive, and when you see girls in tears all the time, you have to be aware that this is hurting them on a different level.”

Buffalo School District spokeswoman Elena Cala declined to comment because it is a personnel matter.

But Mark Panepinto, the team’s treasurer and a staunch supporter of the coach, said Matos’ record speaks for itself.

“She has run the most successful city program in any sport in the entire City of Buffalo,” he said. “Her teams have won four state championships and been in the state finals three other times. She’s created a culture of success.” Panepinto organized a meeting Monday with 12 parents representing eight of the 16 girls on the team, hoping to build support for the embattled coach.

“She’s very tough and demanding on the girls,” Panepinto said. “She’s an old-school coach, and expects them to give 100 percent effort. I think a lot of parents aren’t built for that.”

His daughter Julia Panepinto, who is on the varsity team, said the team was informed of Matos’ absence at around 2 p.m. Monday by Aubrey T. Lloyd III, the district’s physical education director, and Andrea L. Norton, supervisor of physical education and health. They also were also told the junior varsity coach will coach today’s away game against Math, Science, Technology Prep.

“We were told it was a legal matter,” Julia said.

Matos, who has been the coach or an assistant coach of girls varsity volleyball since 1993, declined to discuss the matter. She teaches physical education at Waterfront School, and also coaches girls varsity softball at City Honors. She also has an outstanding grievance against the district after being passed over for a gym teacher opening at City Honors three years ago.

Matos had a policy of having the girls wear practice jerseys before the start of games so the other team couldn’t see their jersey numbers. The girls would then change into their game jerseys, but in doing so had to strip down to their sports bras while on court. After parents’ complaints, the girls changed their jerseys off court Monday.

“These are 12- to 18-year-old girls, having to strip down to their bras in their home gym,” Gribbins said.

Matos’ long practices – some going more than four hours, some parents said – also led to another change in policy, in which court and after-practice meetings can no longer last more than 2½ hours.

But more than anything, it’s the way the girls are treated that has some parents demanding something be done.

“There’s no reason in a high school sport that you should have a girl crying in front of her teammates. It’s a game,” Gifford said. “And she doesn’t treat all the girls the same. She screams at certain girls in their face, while she pulls others aside and talks to them privately.”

But Nancy McKelvey, who has an eighth-grader on the varsity team, said Matos deserved praise for what she gives to City Honors athletes.

“She give her heart and soul and paycheck and time for the kids and the City Honors team. It would be a tremendous loss for our daughters if she is no longer in this position,” McKelvey said.