HS Coach's Office Closing Causes Uproar

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The New York Post


The history-laden walls of legendary Queens high-school basketball coach Ron Naclerio's office tell quite a story - but a new principal allegedly wants to shut them up.

From the thank-you letter Martin Luther King Jr. sent to Naclerio's surgeon father for saving his life after a 1958 stabbing to the yellowing photos of star NBA players who trained with the coach, every inch of the Benjamin Cardozo HS space is plastered with meaning.

But Principal Meagan Colby will soon replace the 44 years of memories with a new ROTC program. Custodians changed the locks late Friday, as the two-time Public School Athletic League championship coach was leading his team to victory in a fall-league contest against Francis Lewis.

Retired NBA star Duane Causwell, a Cardozo grad, called it an "injustice."

"It's a place where we learned the game, we learned about life," he said. "I remember there were plenty of nights where we all just sat in there and talked about different things . . . You have a teacher here trying to help kids. If anything, you should be asking, 'What else do you need?' "

Cardozo alum Melvin Robinson, who played professionally overseas and now coaches high-school basketball in Manhattan, seethed, "That principal has no principles."

Robinson makes a point of bringing his student athletes to see Naclerio's shrine, which includes pictures of himself along with past and present NBA pros like Lamar Odom, Kevin Love, Rafer Alston and Royal Ivey on the walls, cabinets and ceiling.

"All the articles, all the letters by the King family . . . it's like a museum. It's bigger than just a coach's office," he said.

In 1958, a deranged woman stabbed Martin Luther King Jr. during a Manhattan book signing. Dr. Emil Naclerio, a thoracic surgeon at Harlem Hospital, operated on King for more than two hours, saving his life.

Former Mets general manager Omar Minaya has known Ron Naclerio since the two competed against each other in high school baseball in Queens. Minaya's son later trained with the coach.

"When it comes to public high-school basketball, he's legend, and whenever you went to that gym, you would go into that office and see all the history and all the pictures of all the guys he's helped," Minaya said.

Naclerio, 61, retired from teaching years ago and earns roughly $8,000 a year as a coach. He shares the office with other staffers and is distraught over the loss.

"It's a special place," he told The Post. "I gave it my life . . . It is something that to so many people probably means nothing, but to me, it's like a sanctuary."

Naclerio's boss handed him a letter with the news during a basketball event last month.

The coach, whose 796 victories is a state record among public high-school basketball coaches, says he's repeatedly asked if he's getting a new office and where he can go with his equipment and mementos, only to be ignored.

"It's like a part of me that died," said Naclerio, who believes his job is safe even without an office.

Education Department spokeswoman Miranda Barbot claimed on Friday that the department is working with Cardozo coaches to "identify alternative space," but Naclerio insisted Saturday, "Nobody's said anything to me."

The principal didn't respond to messages.

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October 15, 2018


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