WILKES-BARRE – Ken Kashatus, who coached Dallas to a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association baseball title in 2017, allowed clear number-one starting pitcher Nick Kocher to play one more basketball game just three days before he threw his team’s first pitch of conference play as the defending state champion.
Hazleton Area’s Joey Grula, who has committed to compete in Ivy League track and field at Brown University, hurried over from providing the decisive points in an afternoon track meet to be a key part of the winning team, playing against Kocher in the 49th annual George P. Moses All-Star Classic for Wyoming Valley Conference senior basketball standouts.
Sam Greenfield, one of four Wyoming Area players selected, was in action even though he is one of, if not, the most essential players to the Warriors WVC Division 2 title defense in boys lacrosse.
Many other players in the doubleheader, which has raised more than $1 million for charities benefitting local families facing medical issues, played their last high school basketball games even though they are also members of spring sports teams at their schools. Whether their spring sport coaches saw the merit in it or would have liked to, but chose not to, interfere, the players showed up as planned.
Three other Warriors, however, wound up sitting out the April 6 game.
First-year coach Rob Lemoncelli did not like the way the risks of, for example, a rolled ankle as his baseball season is getting started stacked up against the rewards of the all-star experience.
Wyoming Area athletic director and head track and field coach Joe Pizano said the school’s policy is that the “in-season” coach has the right to set such policies for his team.
There are many ways to justify Lemoncelli’s decision, including the understanding that he is a new coach trying to establish that this is now his program after replacing the most successful coach the program has ever had.
They do not outweigh, however, the fact that countless other coaches have gone along with the Moses doubleheader and other similar all-star games for their athletes in the spirit of cooperation, even if they wish they didn’t have to face such choices.
Lemoncelli would have been better off crossing his fingers, understanding that any time an athlete participates in competition, practice, training or dabbling with another sport he is both potentially making himself a better, more-experienced, all-around athlete and taking a risk of being hurt.
Matt Wright, Kyre Zielinski and Aaron Zezza earned the right to play in the Moses game with other basketball all-stars. They occupied roster spots that, theoretically, could have been awarded to other players.
Of all schools, it is shocking such a decision would come out of the Wyoming Area athletic program, which, more than any other in the WVC, has made adjustments for athletes participating in more than one sport during the same season to help keep numbers up and teams competitive at a mid-sized school with often-ambitious schedules.
Lemoncelli’s center fielder is Marc Anthony Menichello, who plans to throw the javelin at the University of Pennsylvania, but still plays both sports at the same time in his final spring as a high school student.
Coaches make tough decisions all the time, with varying pressures providing influence. Some are done on the field and some off. None get them all right and many are open to debate.
There’s no need to go any further with the argument that this was not the best decision Lemoncelli has made or will make as a rookie coach. He already says so himself.
“I was just looking for what I thought was in the best interest of the team,” Lemoncelli said. “I’ll be honest. In hindsight, if they want to participate in a basketball game, they should have been able to.”
Unfortunately, that realization came a bit too late.
Lemoncelli said he did not know about the game and was caught off-guard when he learned the players had an all-star practice the night before the conference opener and two nights before the Moses games.
“There were some jitters,” Lemoncelli said. “I told the kids I didn’t think it was a good idea for them to go and play basketball.
“I felt that I’ve just seen it happen so many times where kids go skiing and get hurt or they roll an ankle doing something else. It had nothing to do with me not wanting them to play basketball. I encourage them to play other sports.”
Lemoncelli said he loves the other sports teams at Wyoming Area and wants to have good working relationships with those coaches. For now, he’ll have to hope that those who disagree with his decision understand it, just as he appears to understand those who disagreed with it.
“It’s our first year in the program,” Lemoncelli said. “If I’m going to sit here and tell you that we’re going to be perfect in every single thing we did as a coaching staff, that’s not a realistic option.
“I think in the future, the kids should discuss it with me, discuss it with their families and, if they want to participate, they should be able to.”