Track coach vexed by unexpected benching

Warwick Beacon ·

Thomas Dolce has spent the better part of 45 years working within the athletics department of Warwick Public Schools coaching boys and girls track. He has helped his teams accrue high win percentages, win numerous championships, guide dozens of students to prestigious titles including All-American honors in various colleges. He was inducted into the Rhode Island Track Coaches Hall of Fame in 2011.

So you may be able to imagine Dolce’s surprise when he learned from athletic director Kenneth Rix that he would be passed over for reappointment as head coach by the Warwick School Committee during their meeting on Feb. 14. Indeed, as he was warned, committee chairwoman Karen Bachus abruptly singled out the “Pilgrim track coach” position from the list of appointees for the spring sports season and removed Dolce’s candidacy before voting in approval of the others.

“There was no reason for it,” Dolce said during a Monday interview. “He [Rix] didn't have any reason for it, and I certainly couldn’t think of any reasons.”

Dolce tried contacting Judy Cobden, the committee’s vice chair who Dolce also happened to know during her time as a student at Pilgrim, but didn’t initially hear back from her. When she returned his message saying that she had been dealing with unspecified health issues and was unable to respond before, she said she would get back to him with a response to his inquiry soon.

She never got back to him, he said on Monday. Dolce said he was surprised, as he felt as though he had a good relationship with Cobden during her time at Pilgrim.

Dolce then tried reaching out to Bachus personally on Saturday. Initially he received no response from her either, but eventually did get a one-sentence response from Bachus on Sunday, which said simply “All coaches are hired on a ONE YEAR ONLY basis.”

“I am well aware that all coaches are hired on a one year only basis,” Dolce wrote back that afternoon. “The point is you took my name off the list of coaches who were recommended for reappointment by the superintendent and the athletic director for no just reason.”

Dolce said that he heard from another parent that his name was removed for re-appointment because “complaints were filed against me,” but that he has never been alerted to the supposed complaints, has never been asked about them and has never been given a chance to respond to the allegations.

In a meeting with Beacon staff, Dolce showed his recent evaluation report from Rix, which indicated no marks of concern and recommended continued employment. Pilgrim High School principal Gerald Habershaw said that he has not received any complaints regarding Dolce during his tenure at the school.

“I feel as though I’ve been unfairly treated,” he said. “My reputation is important to me, and I won’t have it be tarnished by innuendos.”

Dolce said he had received an overwhelming response from those vouching for his character and decrying the decision to pass him over for re-appointment as the head coach.

Reached on Monday, Bachus said that Dolce’s re-appointment will be on the agenda for the next meeting for discussion and/or action. “He has a good record,” she said, but declined to comment further on why his name was pulled in the first place. Cobden did not respond to requests for comment by press time.