Anthony Nicodemo called a meeting with the Saunders High School basketball team that he coaches in late June. All of the players attended, along with their parents, as well as the school principal, assistant coaches, several alumni who had played at Saunders for Coach Nicodemo, and even a local newspaper reporter.
Nicodemo was nervous, not knowing how things were going to go, what the fallout from his forthcoming speech might be.
"I'm sure the players walked in [to that meeting] and were totally confused; they probably thought I was resigning," Nicodemo said.
Instead, the 35 year-old hard-working, sports-loving coach, who has carried that coach tag for about half his life, told his team he is gay.
There was shock in the room, but then one player quickly said, "Who cares?!"
Nicodemo then became Coach Nicodemo, with a speech that easily could have been delivered on the opening night of the basketball season. "Nothing has changed for the team; we still have the same goals; we're still [practicing] shirts and skins, etc.," Nicodemo said.
The alumni then asked to speak privately to the team, and Nicodemo told them to take as long as needed. That speech from the alumni lasted less than a minute, and the players went to the gym to practicewith Coach Nicodemo.
"I definitely thought there was going to be more negative [responses or reaction]. I thought there would be some kind of outcry, but it never came," Nicodemo said.
Instead, it's been a flood of positive, supporting responses since his story has gone viral, even landing on Good Morning America. He's been supported by local parents and ppposing players. Nicodemo has even received emails of support from soldiers stationed in Afghanistan.
"I happen to be in the right situation, in the right state, in the right school district, with the right group of kids … it was almost the perfect storm for everything to align," said Nicodemo, who graduated from high school in 1996 and started his coaching career during the 1996-97 season.
He is entering his fifth season at Saunders this winter.
"I just thought I had to stay closeted [or risk my] basketball coaching career. Definitely from the basketball aspect there was the fear," Nicodemo said. "But, the climate has changed; I don't think I could have done this 10 years ago, or even five years ago. I came out and pretty much was embraced by everyone; I don't know if that would have been the case even five years ago.
"Sure, being a leader, being established in the basketball community helps." Nicodemo is the director of the Lower Hudson Basketball Coaches Association and is the Section One representative to the Basketball Coaches Association of New York. He also is on the Coaches vs. Cancer advisory board. "All those things somewhat make it easier," to come out, Nicodemo said.
Nicodemo, who is single, wrote a blog years ago as an unknown, closeted coach. He also over the past five years or so communicated privately with other out sports-tied individuals.
In June, he attended the Nike LGBT Sports Summit in Portlandand that truly launched the coach's coming out.
"I thought it was important [to attend] and yet had no idea what I was walking into. To be embraced by the [LGBT] community like that was just unbelievable," Nicodemo said. "I left there feeling so empowered; it was an amazing feeling."
Nicodemo was, in fact, scheduled to have left Portland on a Friday, but instead extended his trip until Sunday nightjust so he could march in the city's Pride Parade.
"Being around people like me in the [sports] business made me think, 'Why can't I do this?'" Nicodemo said. "On the flight home, I started to formulate how I wanted to attack coming out. Flying home, the adrenaline was ridiculous.
"I landed at Kennedy Airport in New York at 5 a.m., took a shower and then went to work."
He met with a friend who is a local reporter that night, and then the Saunders principal the next day, who then contacted the superintendent to let him know that Nicodemo was coming out. The superintendent reached out to Nicodemo, and Nicodemo reached out to othersto let a select few know in advance that the news was about to break.
Nicodemo's coming-out story hit the Internet on June 29, "and things have steam rolled from there," he said.
"I don't remember thinking I was gay in high school, whether I was suppressing it or not, I don't know. There was nothing there that made me think I was gay."
In his late teens and early 20s, that's when it really hit himthat he might be gay.
"As I got older, I became more accepting [of the fact I am gay]," he said.
Nicodemo said he has not had any direct backlash or negative responses or comments since coming out, though there have been some negative comments in the local media. Still, "the positives certainly outweigh the negatives by a zillion; it's not even close," he said.
Nicodemo took over a Saunders program that, for years, was one of the worst in the area. Saunders was long the team that opponents wanted to playbecause they knew it was an easy "W."
Saunders won three games combined in the two seasons before Nicodemo arrived.
Saunders won three games in Nicodemo's first season, then six the next year, then 13 and the city championship. This past season, the team finished with 11 wins.
The winning ways should continue this season, said Nicodemo, who isn't worried about anti-gay comments while coaching. "Could something happen? Absolutely. But, if something happens and I need to address it, I will not be shy about addressing it, however I deem necessary," he said.