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June 26, 2013

High school coach tells players he's gay





After years of keeping quiet about his personal life, this past week, Saunders Trades & Technical high school basketball coach Anthony Nicodemo acknowledged to his players and their families that he was gay.

Nicodemo, the head coach at the Yonkers, NY school, had previously revealed the details to his closest friends, the superintendent of the school district and the principal of Saunders high school and the news was met with open arms. His players and their families didn't know of his sexuality until he decided he was comfortable enough to disclose the information.

Nicodemo gathered his players and their families and was ready to tell them that their basketball coach was gay. Leading up to his announcement, his day was filled with anxiety. He was anxious, yet nervous about how the players would react. One of the parents was already briefed on the meeting after the news leaked to her and she gave Nicodemo the encouragement he needed to go through with his decision to open up. "She called me and she said, 'you're not my kids coach, you're a part of my family, this means nothing," he said. "That made me feel at ease going to the meeting and the other parents there embraced it as well."

Nicodemo is more than a basketball coach. He currently serves as the director of the Westchester County Basketball coaches association and the Section I representative to the basketball coaches association in New York. He runs Hoops for Cure, with Monroe College, a charity event that helps fund the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. He also serves on the board of the Hudson Valley Coaches vs. Cancer to help raise money for charity.

During an intensive phone interview with NYCHoops.net, Nicodemo revealed that the timing was right for him to finally discuss this with his players, their families and his close friends. "I think the climate is right for it, right now," he said. "It's becoming more acceptable than it once was. At this point, it was the right time where I was secure enough with myself."

Every situation is different. Jason Collins came out as a gay male in professional sports. Nicodemo is a social studies teacher coaching basketball at the high school level. He's overseeing teens, a program and in the position as an educator. It could be looked upon as opening the door for our youth to come out, but Nicodemo doesn't look at it that way. "I don't feel I opened the door for them to do it because I think everyone's situation is different and everyone has to do this on their own time," he said. "I don't want to ever guide a kid and say 'do this,' but if I can be there, I could help him through the process."

The basketball world has seen a coach and a player at two different levels announce their sexuality. It's difficult for prominent figures to come out and that's why Nicodemo coached himself through the decision. He received advice from others in the gay community and watching Collins announce his sexuality inspired him to be true to himself. "He allowed the conversation to be had with the attachment to basketball," he said. "He sparked the conversation and got the ball rolling in many ways."

High school athletics is often occupied with teenagers that go on to play basketball at the Division I level. Nicodemo was asked if a high school recruit announcing he was gay would change the way programs consider him. "I think it depends on how good the kid is," he said. "If it's a kid that's 6-10, jumps through the roof, scores 30 points a game and comes out the closet, we all know college coaches are recruiting him. There is no question about that."

He continued by saying, "At the end of the day, with college basketball it's a business. These guys have to get these players or else they are not going to have jobs or they're not going to be able to feed their families. No coach is going to miss an opportunity and shy away from a big time player or a good player that's going to help their program because he's gay. I think it's the lower level kids that you have to worry about."

Since opening up about his private life, Nicodemo has spoken to his players, their families and is ready to get back in the gym. A team returning the majority of its players, including a freshman that led them in every statistical category and three seniors, are ready to compete. The team is expected to be closer than ever next year and the coach senses it when he speaks to them. "Anytime a team goes through a little bit of controversy or something outside the norm, that brings them together," he said. "The best teams out there have that tremendous amount of chemistry. I think the kids were smart enough to rally around each other, their coach and that's ultimately going to make us a close team."

At this point, Nicodemo is happy and secure with himself. He knows that there are going to be negatives but only embraces the opinions that matter. "I think the good coaches have tough skin and there is no difference in me," he said. "I really don't care at this point about what people think. The people that I care about have embraced this and those are the people that I care about."









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