By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 8/24/10
About 65 supporters, comprised of team members, parents and followers, jammed into the Strath Haven Middle School library Monday during the monthly Wallingford-Swarthmore School Board meeting on behalf of Jen Duckenfield, whose contract as head girls’ lacrosse coach was not renewed for 2011 by the school administration.
Nearly a dozen of these supporters spoke for almost an hour about why Duckenfield, who guided the Panthers to a share of their first Central League championship, was a positive leader for the team and should not have been let go. Duckenfield had finished her first year as head coach after serving as a volunteer assistant for two years and a paid assistant for five years.
Thirty-three of the 37 team members attended the meeting in support of rehiring Duckenfield – often referred to as “Coach Duck” – and presented a petition to the board signed by 34 players.
The display occurred after the players and parents spoke of frustration over being given little or no feedback by district administrators after asking why their coach was not retained. Duckenfield was named as one of three runner-ups for the Phillylacrosse.com Coach of the Year after leading her team to a record of 18-4 and a second straight berth in the state playoffs.
The school board, along with school Principal Dr. MaryJo Yannacone, would not comment specifically on the reason for dismissing Duckenfield, citing that personnel decisions are not made public. Yannacone did tell Phillylacrosse.com after the meeting that she and athletic director Chip Carroll made the decision and shared in the evaluation of Duckenfield following the conclusion of the season.
She noted that Duckenfield – who was not present – has applied for the job and will be considered with all other applicants.
Phillylacrosse.com attempted to contact Carroll several times before the school board meeting, but no calls were returned.
Duckenfield, who coached most of the Strath Haven players in Haven’s Youth Lacrosse program, guided the Panthers to a memorable 9-8 victory over powerful Central League rival Radnor this year. Radnor repeated as state champion and finished as the No. 3 team in the nation, according to Lacrosse Magazine. The loss was Radnor’s only regular-season defeat in the past three years.
Strath Haven’s win over Radnor was named the “Game of the Year” by Phillylacrosse.com last month.
The players, who were joined at the podium by parents of current and former players and an official of Haven Youth Lacrosse, discounted claims that the team was split in its support of Duckenfield and that “misinformation” was provided to administrators about what occurred during the season.
The players that spoke were steadfast in their feelings that they wanted Duckenfield back as coach in 2011, due to her passion and leadership skills as well as her strong connections to the team and the youth program.
One resident, Michael Frost, backed the decision to let Duckenfield go and said she should not be rehired.
A school board member, Vice President Vincent J. Marriott III, told the crowd that the board backed the decision by the administration to not retain Duckenfield. Marriott III later told Phillylacrosse.com that he could not comment further on the dismissal, but did note that he was impressed to see the students band together to state their case in such an organized fashion.
The Haven Youth Lacrosse President, Bill Shields, said officials from his organization fully supported Duckenfield and that nothing was found to believe she had done anything to split the lacrosse community in the Strath Haven district. He said Duckenfield had long been a popular and highly-regarded coach in the youth program and that most girls were excited to know she would be their high school coach when she was hired to replace long-time coach Margie Garrity last year.
Duckenfield’s resume of coaching is deep. She coaches for the well-regarded Ultimate Goal club program and was selected as an assistant for the Philly team, which excelled at the Under Armour Underclassmen Games this year. She also was the first girls’ coach named to head the women’s division of the Philly Lacrosse Showcase this November at Episcopal Academy. The event is one of the biggest fall recruiting showcases in the country.
Duckenfield also heads a Fall Ball league that is the largest girls’ off-season program in Philadelphia. She also runs a winter league for youth boys and girls. More importantly for the Strath Haven girls, she remains involved in helping with their recruiting.
Eight members of the team spoke for an extended period about how Duckenfield brought the team together, spent extra hours preparing for games, and helped the players in their college searches by contacting many coaches while making the experience worthwhile for all players, from the varsity and JV team.
The players spoke about the quest of winning a state championship in 2011 and how they needed Duckenfield to accomplish their goals, but also about how she helped them become better teammates and how she rallied around anyone involved with the team that was ill or injured.
One incoming senior, co-captain Summer O’Donnell, explained how Duckenfield raised the level of the team and helped her get recruited by Drexel where she plans to fulfill her goal of playing college lacrosse. O’Donnell said Duckenfield had coached her since she was in fourth grade with Haven Lacrosse.
“The team was there in support,” said O’Donnell in an interview after the meeting. “Coach Duck has been a tremendous supporter to the whole team, on and off the field and has been a huge part of helping us learn lacrosse and become successful.
“We’re going to do everything in our power to have he back as coach in 2011. She taught us to keep our heads up and never give up.”
Another speaker, John Carzo, whose daughter Sara is an incoming senior, said in an interview that the players and parents proved there was no split in the opinion about Duckenfield. He told the school board that Duckenfield has helped his daughter in times of adversity, as she rehabilitates from a severely knee injury.
“The lesson learned for the girls was that even if they are told no, you never give up until you have exhausted all resources,” he said. “It’s similar to lacrosse – the game is not over until the final whistle blows. They’ll keep going to the end.”
Tags: Strath Haven