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Despite the departure of longtime coach Carmine Colasanto from the Lehman High School varsity football program, the Lions are in good paws with his replacement, Debbie Vance.
Colasanto, shortly after picking up his 200th career victory at the school, became the subject of a payroll scandal involving overtime pay for his assistant coaches. The controversy rocked the Bronx school and also led to the forced resignation of its popular principal Robert Leder.
Forced to step down from his post, Colasanto is in the midst of a battle with the Department of Education to reclaim what was taken away. In the meantime, Lehman has turned to longtime junior varsity head coach Debbie Vance, who is also known to the school for her work as the boys’ head volleyball coach, as well as her responsibilities with the New York Sharks women’s tackle football program.
“It’s a bittersweet experience for me, because of the circumstances around the decision,” said Vance, who admitted that she had always aspired to take over the program, but only when Colasanto did not want to coach anymore.
“If he wins his battle with the Department of Education and wants to coach again, I would absolutely step down,” said Vance, who has worked under Colasanto as part of the JV program since 1989, having been its head coach since 1996. “He has done so much for this program and has left a legacy that I hope I can continue in his absence,” she continued.
Vance officially took over the program earlier this month and began running practice not too long after, as the team prepares for its opening day game on Saturday, September 6, 12 p.m. at Clinton High School against the defending champs from Curtis.
“On the night before camp, I didn’t sleep,” Vance said. “I tried, but I kept getting up. There is so much excitement and there are a lot of expectations when it comes to Lehman football.”
The Lions program is known for its competitive play, having posted a 6-3 record for the last two seasons, and going a perfect 9-0 in 2006, meaning a lot of eyes will be on Vance this year. Despite not being the only female PSAL head football coach, she may be the most high-profile considering Lehman’s past success.
“I just want to stay competitive and keep the winning tradition alive,” said Vance.
But the new head coach comes into the season without any notable starters from last year. Lehman lost 22 seniors to graduation, including its stars Raul De Benedittis and Jamari Young. Many of those stars once played for Vance on JV.
“There were just a handful from last season that didn’t play JV with me,” she said. “That made me feel good; like I must have been doing something right to get them to that level.”
Vance likes what she sees in her new crop of players, many of whom she coached during a successful 8-0 season as the JV head coach last year. Among those expected to help lead the team this year are Siriki Diabate, an inside linebacker who recorded 90 tackles, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery and 1 interception last year on the varsity team; Devante Mealy, who rushed for 585 yards and 8 touchdowns in 72 carries on the JV team, while also scoring 2 touchdowns as a punt return specialist; among other players.
Despite the new players, do not expect a lot of changes in how Lehman plays its first game.
“We’ll mix it up; take what the defense gives us,” said Vance. “We’re not going to change the program from what worked for Carmine. It doesn’t make sense to. We’ll play the game Lehman is known for and as long as my kids play assignment football and trust one another on the field, we’ll remain successful.”
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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