When Saint Bernard School fired Bill Buscetto June 17 after his three-plus tremendously successful years as athletic director and baseball coach, the shocking news screamed for an explanation.
Now we won't be left searching for answers. Buscetto's dismissal will be reviewed, dissected and analyzed by an impartial third party in a court of law.
Buscetto, 38, has filed suit against St. Bernard and the Norwich Diocese for wrongful termination. The former Saints athletic standout, Hall of Famer, and acclaimed coach, athletic director and fund-raiser in his professional Saints tenure is seeking retribution for loss of income, benefits, reputation damages and money he personally contributed to athletic facility upgrades.
Anyone familiar with Buscetto knew this intensely proud and dynamic man would not take his jolting separation quietly. Not when he has what he views as an excellent "case" against his alma mater. Buscetto was replaced as athletic director by Brendan Case, a 27-year-old former Ledyard school teacher who was St. Bernard tennis coach last spring.
"I cannot wait for my day in court," Buscetto said. "I have always viewed this as a bogus termination, a personality conflict with (outgoing headmaster) William McKenna. The school has left me with no other alternative than to file suit, which is the last thing I wanted to do, because I love Saint Bernard. I bleed red and gray. I want everyone to know that the lawsuit has nothing to do with how much I love the teachers, coaches and students I've know there."
The lawsuit chronicles a couple of incidents that Buscetto feels contributed to some administrators frustration with him, justified or not.
Buscetto, a proven fund-raiser with years of experience as former director of the Stonington Community Center, organized a St. Bernard golf fundraiser in 2009 and 2010 and raised $25,000 earmarked for school athletic projects.
The suit claims he was only allowed to use $5,000 for athletics, because school administrators allotted the remaining funds for business, payroll and non-sport expenses. Upon learning this, Buscetto canceled the golf outing. In the suit, he charged the school had misappropriated funds.
Based partially on the school's hesitance to fund athletic projects, Buscetto donated $70,000 of his own money to turn a grassy pasture at school into Saint Bernard's first on-campus softball complex last spring. The suit is seeking repayment of the $70,000, among other damages.
Buscetto claims the final straw behind his dismissal was what he viewed to be a responsible reaction to an incident during a Saints football conditioning session on school grounds June 16, a time allowable for training under CIAC rules.
An assistant coach was starting conditioning drills when a Saint Bernard employee interrupted practice and told the team, per orders of McKenna, he said, to get off school grounds. The assistant called head coach Scott Cook, who was at his daughter's school ceremony, who asked the employee to contact McKenna. The employee refused.
The assistant stated in an email to Buscetto that he smelled alcohol on the employee and suspected he was intoxicated by his slurred speech and body language.
Buscetto reported the incident to administrators and advised the football staff to call police if this or any employee was suspected to be interfering with conditioning or suspected to be intoxicated. Cook emailed Buscetto, thanking him for his direction.
"Incredibly, the Norwich Diocese superintendent (Jack Shine) admonished me for reporting this incident," Buscetto said. "He told me I'm not supposed to report such an incident about a school employee."
The incident takes on additional dimension in light of what Penn State is now experiencing for closing ranks and covering up, though that, of course, is on a much different scale.
"Twenty seven hours after that incident, I was called into the office and fired," Buscetto said.
After many public protests to his dismissal by athletes, alumni, coaches and fellow athletic directors in the area, Saint Bernard offered him half of his job back - the AD post with no coaching. It was an offer that Buscetto, who coached the baseball team to a Class S state final in his first year in 2008 and to within one inning of winning the ECC Title in 2011, refused.
"It's like 1,000 against one," Buscetto said. "I received incredible support from so many people who wanted me reinstated. I'm very eager to have my case heard."
In his place, a 27-year-old with no administrative experience is the AD and a 22-year-old just out of college is the baseball coach.
Perhaps some day, with years of hard work and proven credentials, these current Saint leaders can be mentioned in the same sentence as Buscetto. But let's not pretend Saint Bernard is better off now than it was behind the passionate leadership of Buscetto.
In a letter on the school's website, Thomas Doherty, St. Bernard's new headmaster, alerted parents and alumni to Buscetto's lawsuit and stated "it has no merit."
That remains to be seen.