One decision leads to a St. Paul student-athlete being forced to sit out a year of sports, creating long, contentious battle between his family and former high school

Published on Friday, 7 February 2020 13:14
Written by MATT HORNICK

@MNHornick

Coming into the new school year, Josh Kolano didn’t expect to have free time after classes ended for the day. With football and basketball filling that spot for as long as he can remember, the high school junior became somewhat lost when he had to find unexpected alternatives.

Going to the gym for a workout after school before heading home to do his homework has now become his daily routine.

“I’ve never experienced a year without sports,” Kolano said.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Kolano showed up for the first day of his junior year at Xavier High School on Sept. 3, anticipating a continuation of the prior two years.

After going to the school nearly every day during the summer for conditioning as a member of the football team, he was looking forward to the start of the new athletic season. Kolano started at quarterback for the first five games of his sophomore season until he suffered a shoulder injury, so he was excited to retake the field as the team’s starting signal-caller with two years ahead of him.

Kolano, however, was unaware at the time he would be transferring to St. Paul Catholic High School by the end of the week, and end up losing an entire year of athletic eligibility for reasons he still does not understand.

“I’ve just been focusing on school work now,” Kolano said. “Every day I get to see all my guys and all my new friends talk about having games to play and I can’t be a part of it. It’s tough.”

Kolano, who lives with his parents in Bristol, enrolled at Xavier for his first two years of high school after attending a camp there the summer before his freshman year. Upon impressing the coaches, his parents were swayed into sending him there, according to his mother, Maggie.

“I told them, first of all, it’s a long way to drive every day, and financially, it’s an expensive school,” Maggie said. “They gave us ‘financial aid,’ so it was like half the tuition. So we decided to give it a shot; it’s a good school. But I told the office of admission I suffer from psoriatic arthritis, and mornings are especially the worst for me. Sometimes it gets so bad I can’t even do my morning routine.”

Maggie’s arthritis made the 25-mile drive to Middletown every morning far more difficult than it would be for the average person. Luckily, they were able to arrange a carpool with a family from Plainville for Josh’s freshman year, and by the time his sophomore year came, Maggie’s doctor found a medication that drastically improved her arthritis symptoms.

“It was like a year of [feeling like] a different person,” Maggie said.

But things changed this summer.

“The medication stopped working, so the doctor put me on a new one. It usually takes three to four months to see if it’s going to work, and that was in June, and by the end of August, we saw the medication was not working and I was really suffering,” Maggie said.

After struggling through the drive to Xavier on her new, ineffective medication, Maggie made a difficult decision. She told Josh she could no longer make the drive. Josh encouraged his mother to make the decision that was in her own best interest, and the next day she withdrew him from Xavier, the third day into the school year.

 

TRANSFER BRINGS COMPLICATIONS

 

“When I went to the admission office to withdraw Josh from Xavier, [a member of the office] asked me why, and I said it was the transportation,” Maggie said. “He asked me a few times if there’s anything else, and I said I have nobody to drive him, it’s a 30-minute drive every day back and forth. So I filled out the form that it’s a transportation reason.”

Before leaving the admission office, she was asked to provide feedback on her experience as a parent over the past two years.

“He said, ‘it’s between just us. I just wanted it for the school, if we need to make any changes or anything,’” Maggie said. “I told him academically, I was really happy with it, and I told him there are some things I don’t like sports-wise, but I didn’t know he was going to turn this against me.”

Maggie brought attention to an issue of favoritism she and other parents thought was displayed by the basketball program during Josh’s two years on the junior varsity team, but she didn’t expect anyone to react to what she was saying.

“When I was leaving the Xavier office, he told me, ‘you know what, the coaches are very angry with you and Josh that he’s leaving.’” Maggie said. “I said, ‘why would they be angry? My son didn’t do anything, and it’s not his choice to leave the school. He has to leave the school [because] I can’t drive him in the morning. I can’t do it. So why would they be angry with him?’”

Maggie wanted Josh to attend St. Paul to continue the Catholic school curriculum he started at Xavier, and he was admitted the following day. He quickly established he wanted to join the football team, and in the winter, the boys basketball team.

“I didn’t really expect to transfer,” Josh said. “But with the circumstances, I could wait five games [and then play football for St. Paul.] But then everything just turned a different way.”

 

ATHLETICS TRANSFER OR HARDSHIP?

 

Josh expected to miss a maximum of five football games, due to the CIAC transfer rule, but shortly into his time at St. Paul they were notified Xavier marked Josh as an athletic transfer - meaning he would have to sit out all athletic competition for an entire year.

“I always thought I had a good relationship with my coaches and everybody at [Xavier],” Josh said. “I could understand [some anger] because it was sudden, but I don’t see a reason why they would do that to me. It’s just been like, ‘wow.’”

Maggie couldn’t believe the decision Xavier made in marking Josh as an athletic transfer.

“I called the headmaster at Xavier (David C. Eustis Jr.) and he was so nasty to me,” Maggie said. “I said, ‘why are you doing this to my son? What did he do?” He said, ‘you went to the office and you complained.’ I said, ‘first of all, I didn’t complain. Your person from [the office] asked me for my feedback and I have a right, even if I did complain, I have a right to complain, but that doesn’t mean it was the reason my son left. If I didn’t like the sports, why did I have Josh there the whole summer and drive him every day?”

But Eustis Jr. and Xavier High School had a different position on the events that led to Josh transferring to St. Paul.

In an interview with the Press, Eustis Jr. said the claims by the Kolano family over the transfer aren’t true, and the decision to remove Josh from Xavier was done so because he was not named the team’s starting quarterback for that upcoming football season. He also said Maggie expressed this in her exit interview with the school.

“All I do is check a box for athletic or not athletic transfer,” Eustis Jr. said. “With the information I was given, I had no choice but to mark the transfer as athletic.”

Eustis Jr. also described a very different phone call from the one Maggie told to the Press.

The headmaster said Maggie called to ask him to change his decision on the transfer reason, but if he did, that would mean he would have to lie to the CIAC, something he was not willing to do.

Joined on the call by school director of communications Matt Conyers, Eustis Jr. also said they were unaware of Maggie’s arthritis and that the decision was purely football related.

Maggie, however, said Xavier director of admissions Nicholas Grasso knew about the severity of her arthritis from the moment the family was originally approached about enrolling Josh at Xavier.

“Every time he saw me he’d ask how I was feeling,” Maggie said.

Xavier did not allow Grasso to be interviewed for this story. The school also blocked head football coach Andy Guyon from commenting on if a starting quarterback decision had been made prior to Josh transferring.

 

APPEAL CONTINUES TRANSFER FIGHT

 

The Kolano family, along with St. Paul Catholic High School, appealed the decision. Citing Article IX of the CIAC by-laws, “It was necessary for the student to transfer because of unforeseen, unavoidable, or unusual circumstances including, but not limited to, broken home conditions, terminal or serious illness of parent or sibling, death of a parent or guardian, abandonment, loss of school accreditation, bankruptcy and/or loss of principal income of legal guardian(s), and provided the transfer was not for athletic reasons and there was no undue influence.”

Maggie provided a note from her rheumatologist to the CIAC stating, “It is difficult for her to drive and travel long distances. It is also difficult for Magdalena to perform her morning functions due to pain.”

On Sept. 20, St. Paul principal Cary Dupont received a letter from CIAC associate executive director Gregg Simon.

“After reviewing the documentation and spending a great deal of time in deliberation, the committee voted to deny the request. In reviewing the documentation, the committee did not find evidence of a hardship that approached any of the levels that allowed previous requests to be granted,” the letter stated.

Maggie was appalled by the decision.

“When somebody looks at me they say, ‘there’s nothing wrong with her,’” Maggie said. “It’s a really bad illness. Without medication I wouldn’t even be able to brush my hair or even walk, it’s that bad.”

The Kolano family and St. Paul appealed for a second time, this time adding a more emphatic note from Maggie’s rheumatologist, stating she “has gotten worse since June 2019” and it can be “very hard if not impossible for Ms. Kolano to do any daily activity in the morning hours.”

Josh, meanwhile, was preparing to play his first football game of the season, St. Paul’s homecoming game Oct. 26, as if the ruling by the CIAC would be reversed. It wasn’t.

“The board voted unanimously to uphold the decision of the CIAC Eligibility Review Board that [Joshua Kolano’s] transfer from Xavier High School to St. Paul Catholic High School was for athletic reasons,” the Oct. 21 letter from the CIAC to Dupont stated.

The CIAC handbook defines athletic reasons as: “Seeking a change to a new school due to inducement or recruitment to play a sport; seeking a superior athletic team; seeking relief due to a conflict with the philosophy or action of an administrator, teacher or coach relating to sports; seeking a team consistent with the student’s athletic abilities; seeking a means to nullify punitive action by the sending school for athletic reasons; seeking to escape academic or other ineligibility at the sending school due to the school’s academic standards.”

The Kolano family did not agree with the ruling.

“Give me proof that he left for athletic reasons. There is no proof,” Maggie said. “It’s not like I sent him to St. Paul before we left Xavier, I didn’t even know if he was going to go to St. Paul. St. Paul doesn’t even play with Xavier, it’s not like they are competitors in sports. They punished my son for no reason.”

Simon declined to comment on Kolano’s review, calling it a “private matter” he was “not comfortable discussing.”

At no point did Maggie expect her appeals to be rejected, as she fully believed the severity of her condition would be recognized. She wasn’t ready to give up, however, and next set up a meeting with the CIAC.

“Xavier’s headmaster and administrator went first and we were in a separate room,” Maggie said. “When they were done with them, they listened to us, so we have no idea what [those from Xavier] said. They could have said whatever they wanted and CIAC will believe them.”

Maggie took things a step further and met with State Senator Henri Martin about helping free Josh of his eligibility restrictions, but the politician said he was unable to influence a private organization.

Josh’s final attempt at having his restrictions lifted came after St. Paul’s football season was over. The CIAC, according to Maggie, suggested St. Paul athletic director David Dennehy to write a letter to the organization asking to grant Josh eligibility for the basketball season, because this specific punishment was about football.

But that request was rejected as well.

“It doesn’t really make sense why they would suggest it and just reject it,” Josh said, both confused and disappointed.

 

LOOKING AHEAD TO NEXT FOOTBALL SEASON

 

Despite not being able to play for St. Paul, Josh stuck with the football team all season. He went to practices and games, preparing as if he would get the chance to play. He was less interested in doing the same during basketball season, as he already knew he was not going to play and thought his time would be better spent elsewhere.

A soft-spoken teenager, Josh expressed how devastated he was and still is since he can’t play sports at St. Paul this year. The additional stress caused problems with Josh’s ulcerative colitis. He was having flare ups that caused him to miss at least one day of school every week through the first half of the school year. This eventually caused Josh’s grades to begin falling because he said he has been struggling to keep up with all of the material he’s missing.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling when someone is hurting your child and hurting him for something that he didn’t do,” Maggie said. “[They are] hurting a child that’s a good kid, no trouble, always humble. How can the CIAC make a decision like this? On what basis? What did they have that they made the decision to do that to him?”

Maggie knows she can’t undo what’s been done to her son, justified or not. Going forward it is important to her that people know about how she was treated by Xavier and the CIAC and hopes she can stop it from happening to other student-athletes and their families.

“He missed the whole [football] season and now he’s missing basketball,” Maggie said. “It looks like he’s going to miss the first football game of his senior year as well. I don’t think it’s fair to him. He didn’t do anything wrong; we didn’t do anything wrong.”

For Josh, he is just trying to weather the remaining time he has without organized sports, knowing now he will eventually get the opportunity to play for St. Paul, just a year later than expected.

“I miss being part of a team, just going out there every game having fun,” Josh said. “I hope next year is a crazy breakout season, and we do really well as a team in both sports.”



Posted in The Bristol Press, St. Paul on Friday, 7 February 2020 13:14. Updated: Friday, 7 February 2020 14:37.