Sunday, February 26, 2006

Pandolfo's choice to step aside was best for everyone

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Pandolfo's choice to step aside was best for everyone

By Jerry Clark, Sports Editor
Thursday, February 23, 2006

Former North Allegheny hockey head coach Tom Pandolfo has been under some unjust criticism since he resigned from his position earlier this month. Hockey Web sites and fans who have labeled him a quitter or say he was pushed out by North Allegheny parents are grossly misinformed.

Pandolfo didn't quit on his team, he made the best decision he could to help their progress.

Pandolfo suffers from a condition known as reflexive sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), a chronic progressive neurological condition that affects skin, muscles, joints and bones. The syndrome often develops in an injured limb like a broken bone, but can also be caused by a minor injury as small as a slight sprain. The condition has forced Pandolfo into the emergency room 26 times in the past eight months.

The illness flares up a lot of time in the middle of the night and gets so severe Pandolfo has needed to call family members to give him a ride because the pain is so unbearable, he can't drive. There is a laundry list of symptoms that go along with the disease including burning pain, extreme sensitivity to touch, joint pain, muscle spasms, weakness, migraine headaches and fatigue which can cause stabbing pain that disrupts sleep.

There is no cure for RSD, so to combat the pain, Pandolfo was taking a heavy dose of medication. Pandolfo decided to stop taking the medicine and rather than ween himself off the medication as his doctor advised him to, he stopped cold turkey. By stopping so abruptly, Pandolfo began to suffer side effects -- mood shifts, depression and dizziness. These side effects made it difficult for Pandolfo to convey a positive attitude during practice and games, and led Pandolfo to believe he was not connecting with the kids.

He did a good job of concealing his agony but finally decided he had to gain control of the situation which ultimately meant stepping away from one of his favorite things, coaching hockey.

I've known Pandolfo for three years and conversed with him on a weekly basis during that time. He is very passionate about coaching. He loves it and aside from family and his business, it's the next most important thing.

He restored a swagger in North Allegheny hockey that had been missing for a while and made the Tigers a respected and competitive organization.

"My leaving had nothing to do with the parents at North Allegheny," Pandolfo said. "The condition became so tough because it prevented me from being positive with my kids. It was hard to leave. I loved it at North Allegheny. They are class people up there.

"I want the kids to be able to get on with the season. They are resilient and they look good."

Pandolfo wanted to be fair to the organization and admits he could have handled the situation better, but the condition he was in after stopping the medication prevented him from doing so.

When he first told me he was stepping aside, I was stunned. I honestly thought he'd be there for a long time, and I know the decision was not an easy one for him to make. But as he always has done, he did what was best for his kids, even if it meant not coaching them.

Pandolfo will be missed, but one's health must come first. He said he would like to coach again someday, I just hope that it's for a team I can cover.

I wish him the best and hope he not only gets healthy, but that he can resume coaching again some day because I know how much he enjoys it. Pandolfo has always been a class act as far as I am concerned.

Win, lose or draw he always showed me the same respect and I will miss talking hockey with him each week. Even though his decision is the right one, the PIHL and North Allegheny will not be the same without Pandolfo being involved.

Jerry Clark can be reached at

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