'I don't punish players': Portas denies charge by Ramsey BOE ex-president

Ramsey hockey coach Dean Portas denied allegations made by former BOE president Tony Gasparovich that he punished his son.

RAMSEY — If Dean Portas punished former Ramsey board of education president Tony Gasparovich’s son, it’s news to him.

One day following Gasparovich’s public remarks that his son, a sophomore defenseman on the Ramsey hockey team last season, was “punished” for asking Portas how he could be “more valuable” to the team early in the year, Portas adamantly denied those claims.

“I don’t punish players,” Portas said Wednesday. “His son was a player that was in competition with other players. He was competing for a role on the team. How did he get punished? I don’t punish players and, if I did, that would come directly back at me. There was nothing done. My job is to develop players and put them in the best opportunity to succeed and give the team the best opportunity to be successful.”

Portas was not the only one within Ramsey hockey questioning Gasparovich’s accusations that his son was punished.

“The only ‘punishment’ that I ever saw would be him not playing,” said one player, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution, of Gasparovich’s son. James Gasparovich was seeing little ice time on the varsity roster, the situation alleged to be at the dispute between the former coach and the BOE’s ex-president.

Tony Gasparovich’s charge came at a Ramsey Board of Education meeting Tuesday night at which he resigned the board presidency, though not his seat.

“I never saw anything that would be considered unfair treatment,” said the player. “He was given chances and didn’t always perform. Other than not playing him because of that, there was never any punishment that I was aware of.”

RELATED: WATCH: Gasparovich resigns Ramsey BOE presidency, calls for probe amid hockey controversy

Gasparovich’s son eventually quit the team on Jan. 5 and sent a text message to the Ramsey hockey group chat that suggested Portas would not be returning next season.

“I believe Ramsey hockey will undergo numerous changes in the coaching and staff,” the text read.

This all came one month after a one-on-one phone conversation between the elder Gasparovich and Portas, one which centered around his son’s status on the team. The conversation materialized after an initial e-mail sent Dec. 2 from Gasparovich — just hours before Game 2 of the 2016-17 season — requesting an “urgent meeting” to discuss “conduct between RHS hockey staff and players.”

He started that e-mail with, “As a parent of an RHS hockey player…”

Gasparovich claims he sent that e-mail to Portas, athletic director Jim Grasso and superintendent Matthew Murphy so that “there were witnesses and no room for accusations or intimidation” and that he “reluctantly agreed” when Portas reached out to him for a phone conversation, rather than a four-person meeting.

Gasparovich said weeks ago that the conversation with Portas was “frank, respectful and honest.” Portas told NJ Advance Media in May that Gasparovich asked him in that conversation, “Can’t you see how my son feels like a yo-yo, wondering if he’s dressing or not every game?”

Portas claims he gave the elder Gasparovich “multiple tips” on how his son could improve his game in that conversation and that he “could not guarantee his kid would dress for varsity games this year.”

E-mails and text messages from last season obtained by NJ Advance Media also show concern between Portas and Grasso early in the 2016-17 season regarding Gasparovich’s son and whether or not he would be dressing for varsity on certain game days. There was apparent pressure on both parties to appease Gasparovich.

On Dec. 3, Grasso sent a text to Portas that asked, “Is James on tomorrow’s dress list?”

RELATED: Texts, e-mails show how Ramsey AD and hockey coach had to cater to BOE president and son

Tuesday night was the third BOE meeting since news broke of Portas’ non-renewal in late April, yet the first time that Gasparovich mentioned publicly that his son was “punished” by Portas, though Gasparovich did not disclose what exactly that punishment was.

“If you want the truth brought to light,” Gasparovich said Tuesday, “then you should ask Mr. Portas to ask for public discussion. He has the right to request that and he has not yet done so.”

Portas spoke with superintendent Murphy — Ramsey’s top administrator in charge of recommending and/or not recommending contract renewals or non-renewals — by phone on Monday. Portas said Murphy told him that he could re-apply for the now vacant head coaching position posted on Ramsey’s web site, though Portas got the impression that nothing seemed like it was going to change in the board’s stance on the matter.

Tuesday night, the majority of board members all spoke publicly in favor of Murphy’s decision to not renew Portas’ contract, which officially expires at the end of June. Those who spoke claimed there were additional reasons — namely conversations with school administration from disgruntled parents and players regarding Portas — that the public remains unaware of.

As recently as March 2, Portas had the support of Dinning following one youth hockey event in Ramsey, with the director of personnel thanking Portas in an e-mail obtained by NJ Advance Media for acting “so professionally” and that she appreciated his “dedication to the hockey program.”

“I don’t know what other additional information they have,” Portas said. “If they have something, it’s something I’m not aware of. And if it was something of concern, I think it should have been brought to my attention right when it was happening.”

It remains unclear if Portas will ever hold a public discussion regarding his contract situation in this ongoing saga. In an evaluation given to Portas by Grasso and Ramsey director of personnel Molly Dinning in May, Portas was given four reasons for his dismissal, including not contacting players who quit the team, not awarding certain members of the team varsity letters and one incident involving one player’s relatives following a game at the Ice Vault.

Portas has disputed each reason given by school administration.

JJ Conrad may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @jj_conrad. Like NJ.com High School Sports on Facebook.