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Decision No. 13,366

Appeal of LOUIS G. and SUSAN E. MARCOCCIA, on behalf of their daughter, RACHEL, from action of the Board of Education of the Cazenovia Central School District regarding an athletic award.

Decision No. 13,366

(February 25, 1995)

Bond, Schoeneck & King, Esqs., attorneys for petitioners, Thomas S. Evans, Esq., of counsel

Peter W. Mitchell, Esq., attorney for respondent

SOBOL, Commissioner.--Petitioners appeal respondent's failure to grant their daughter, Rachel, a senior athletic award. The appeal must be dismissed.

Each year, the Board of Education of the Cazenovia Central School District ("respondent") presents several awards to senior female athletes. While petitioners' papers are not clear, it appears that the awards at issue included:

The Steve Suhey Award - presented to the "athlete who most exemplifies ... total dedication and all around athletic ability ... [and] exhibit[s] the highest qualities of academic achievement as well as character and integrity in the school and community."

The Section III Scholar Athlete Award - presented to the graduating male and female student athletes "who have achieved high academic success, as well as athletic accomplishments."

The Outstanding Senior Athlete Award - presented to a senior who excels "in the athletic arena through their individual accomplishments and contributions to their teams, while demonstrating good sportsmanship. The recipients of this award must have played at least two sports during their senior year. Consideration is given to participation in pursuits outside those offered through the school's interscholastic sports program."

The Best Attitude Award - presented to the athlete who "leads by an example of hard work and dedication ... [demonstrating] love for athletics and team involvement throughout their athletic careers ...."

Rachel, who graduated from Cazenovia High School in June 1994, was not nominated for the Section III Scholar Athlete Award or the Best Attitude Award. Rachel was, however, nominated for the Steve Suhey Award and the Outstanding Senior Athlete Award, but was not elected to receive either award. Petitioners protested the failure to grant their daughter a senior athletic award (It is not clear whether petitioners contest all such awards or only some of them.)

The record indicates that in response to petitioners' complaint, the superintendent spent over twenty hours investigating this matter. Candidates for a senior female athlete award were nominated by any of respondent's athletic coaches. Recipients were selected by vote of the 19 varsity coaches. In the course of his investigation, the superintendent reviewed the award criteria, student academic records and student sports participation records. In addition, the superintendent interviewed the athletic director, the girls varsity basketball coach, the girls varsity softball coach, the girls varsity volleyball coach, the boys varsity golf coach and the boys track coach. After concluding his investigation, the superintendent found no evidence that any coach was biased against Rachel, tried to negatively influence other coaches against Rachel or otherwise denied Rachel fair consideration for a senior athletic award. At its meeting on July 11, 1994, respondent reviewed the superintendent's investigation as well as correspondence supplied by petitioners. After deliberating for approximately 45 minutes, respondent elected not to grant petitioners' request to grant Rachel a senior female athlete award. This appeal ensued.

Before reviewing the merits, I will address several procedural issues. In their reply, petitioners assert new allegations which were not previously set forth in the petition and which do not respond to new material or affirmative defenses set forth in the answer (8 NYCRR 275.14). A reply is not meant to buttress allegations in the petition (Appeal of Verity, 31 Ed Dept Rep 485; Appeal of Pronin, 27 id. 203). Therefore, I will not consider those portions of the reply that raise new matters.

I note that petitioners failed to join the recipients of the senior female athlete awards as parties to this appeal. Petitioners are required to name any individual as a party whose rights would be adversely affected by a determination in their favor (Appeal of Chesbrough, 32 Ed Dept Rep 647; Appeal of Boeddener, 28 id. 578). In this case, petitioners seek an order denying the recipients the honor of the award and naming Rachel the winner or co-winner of an award. That relief would adversely affect the recipients. Since petitioners do not name the recipients as respondents, the appeal must be dismissed for failure to join necessary parties (Appeal of Nordin, 32 Ed Dept Rep 17).

The appeal must also be dismissed on the merits. Petitioners contend that the process used to select the winners of the senior female athlete awards was flawed because there are inadequate criteria for determining who receives such awards. While it is not entirely clear, petitioners seem to argue that the criteria must be so specific as to permit a precise measure of the relative accomplishment of each potential recipient of an award. Such a precise measure is neither possible nor desirable. As noted above, there is established criteria for each of the awards in question. Moreover, nothing in the record supports the contention that such criteria are flawed.

Petitioners also contend that Rachel did not receive an athletic award because respondent's girls basketball coach and athletic director are biased against her. However, other than petitioners' conclusory allegations of bias, they offer no evidence to support those assertions. While the record discloses that petitioner Louis G. Marcoccia has, on several occasions, criticized the basketball coach's knowledge and manner of coaching and shared those criticisms with the coach, athletic director, high school principal and superintendent, there is no indication that Mr. Marcoccia's criticisms resulted in the denial of an athletic award to Rachel.

Petitioners further maintain that Rachel was more deserving of the awards received by other senior female athletes. In support of that contention, petitioners list Rachel's very extensive academic and athletic accomplishments. While petitioners' daughter was clearly qualified for the awards in question, the record indicates that the actual recipients of the awards also had impressive academic and athletic records. Based on the record of accomplishments of the recipients of the awards and the absence of any evidence of bias in the selection process, I find the granting of the awards was fair and that respondent's refusal to change them was neither arbitrary nor capricious.

I have reviewed petitioners' remaining contentions and find them without merit.