(NEW YORK) — Coaching is Anthony Nicodemo’s life. Nicodemo, 35, has been coaching boys’ basketball for 16 years but when he arrived at Saunders High School in Yonkers, N.Y., he found a team that was struggling to win.
The biggest obstacle for coach Nicodemo was not keeping his team in line, or turning them around and making them playoff contenders, however.
Nicodemo had a secret. He was gay, and he’d been keeping it a secret for years.
“I’m very upfront,” Nicodemo told ABC News. “So, for me, that was my demon. I’m supposed to be this guy [who is] always honest and yet I’m not 100 percent honest.”
He decided to be honest with himself — and his team.
“The one person you can’t con is yourself,” Nicodemo told his players in June. “I said, ‘Guys, the story is going to come out tomorrow about me being a gay high school basketball coach.”
Gay leaders in sports are rare, and even rarer at the high school level.
“At first the mouths dropped, but it didn’t take long,” Nicodemo said of his players’ reaction.
Joe Nolan, a player, recalled what happened in the moments after Nicodemo spoke.
“We just started talking and started applauding him,” Nolan said. “He said, ‘Does any player want to speak,’ and I was the first one to jump up and start speaking for him.”
Another player, Erwin Williams, described what Nicodemo means to the team.
“He’s more of like a mentor, a father figure,” said Williams. “We really look up to him.”
Just as importantly for Nicodemo, the high school is standing by their coach too.
“I think it is a learning experience and I think our students are more accepting. They understand,” Yonkers Public Schools’ Superintendent Bernard Pierorazio.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Susan Scutti, CNN
Kevin Conlon, Euan McKirdy and Johanzynn Gatewood, CNN
Heather Simonsen, KSL.com