Monday, November 21, 2016


Joe Fischetti
A search committee created by the Columbia High School athletic director to find a new baseball coach initially recommended troubled former coach Joe Fischetti, but that idea was nixed by Superintendent John Ramos.

The committee then recommended James Whalen, a Denville physical education teacher and former West Essex High School assistant baseball coach, who was officially appointed earlier this week.

Drew Dix, the newly appointed president of the CHS Baseball Boosters, said he was part of the committee formed by Athletic Director Larry Busichio that included parents and administrators.

Drew Dix
He said they were asked to interview six finalists for the position, which was vacated at the end of last season after the school board chose to open the position to new applicants.

That choice followed more than two years of complaints and investigations into claims of harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) by Fischetti, which resulted in an internal review finding that such actions occurred. 

The district also hired an outside investigator, at a cost of $5,000, to review the evidence, but have yet to disclose his findings. A lawsuit by former CHS baseball player David DeFranco was also filed and is still working its way through the courts.

Dix said the search that formally began in late August was halted for about a month in late September, but the Boosters were given no reason. On Nov. 7, he said Busichio told the committee the search was back on and the group interviewed the six finalists that day. 

Among the finalists was Fischetti, who remains a physical education teacher at CHS, and his former assistant, Matthew Becht.

"I'm a Joe Fischetti guy, Joe and Matt put us in a different direction, two straight conference championships," Dix said. "We evaluated them and we recommended Joe. It was not unanimous." 

He said Ramos received the recommendation of Fischetti, but rejected it. "We went with James." 

Dix replaced former Boosters president Bill Krais in September after he stepped down. Krais is among a long list of defendants named in the lawsuit.  

Dix said the parents will work with Whalen and believe he will be a great coach.

"I think it's tough, but I think the way the program heals is to put the focus back on the kids where it has not been, it's been on whatever the board's motivation is," Dix said. "To get the coach together with the kids as soon as possible, we are hoping to do that the next couple of weeks."

School district officials and Busichio did not respond to requests for comment.