Shoreham-Wading River football players defended coach Aden Smith at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting and urged the board to reinstate him.
Smith was removed as head coach last week as the district began an investigation into an incident that occurred during an Aug. 30 scrimmage at Islip High School.
Players who spoke at the meeting said Smith came to their defense when rising tensions during a scrimmage resulted in a scuffle between players. Smith raced onto the field to try and restore order when coaches on the opposing team did not, several speakers said.
Shoreham senior Xavier Arline, the team’s captain and quarterback, said when a scuffle occurs, the players rely on their coach.
“I’d be ashamed if I didn’t come up here and stand up for my coach when he’s done nothing but stand up for us,” Arline said. “That day of the scuffle he did nothing but stand up for his players.”
More than 20 players attended the meeting wearing their yellow “Tommy Tough” jerseys.
Rick Casazza, whose son Mike is a senior on the football team, told the board he was at the scrimmage. He described the scene that day as lacking proper officiating and supervision.
“A lot of this could have been avoided,” he said.
He described a play where his son was at the receiving end of unsportsmanlike conduct that was not addressed. He said on a running play, his son blocked an Islip player and at the end, a player who was the defensive end punched his son underneath the face mask, snapping his neck backward.
He said he didn’t see the play as it happened, but was informed by another parent. He later saw it on film, he said. The player remained in the scrimmage, he said.
“Coach Smith was the only coach on that field to step in and verbally handle the situation,” he said.
Casazza also credited the Shoreham coaches for preventing additional players charging onto the field when the scuffle began. He said he did not see that from coaches on the other team.
Arline’s father, John, described how his son was lying at the bottom of a pile and was on the receiving end of helmet-to-helmet hits.
“When it’s your son who’s being hit, helmet-to-helmet, who do we expect to protect them?” he said. “We know too well in our community that sometimes kids who get hit helmet to helmet, they don’t get to go home.”
He said that’s what brought Smith out onto the field.
“When I think about what he did and I think about how fast he responded, I’m actually pretty proud of the person that you put in charge of my kid and all the other kids’ safety,” Mr. Arline told the board. “He was fast. He saw it happening, he saw it developing and he ran as fast as he could to get to their aid. That’s what I would expect as a parent.”
Newsday published a story Sunday where an Islip parent told the paper Smith grabbed his son “in the neck area and started shaking him back and forth.”
No one addressed that specific allegation during the meeting.
Senior Matt Zahn said Smith stepped up when there were no officials or other coaches to do so.
“I think there’s no reason he should be removed for that,” he said.
What the school board must now decide in its investigation is whether Smith’s actions in trying to separate players during the scuffle crossed a line and if so, what punishment would be appropriate.
Smith already missed the season opener Friday night when the Wildcats won 41-7 against Bayport-Blue Point at home. Arline rushed for five touchdowns in the win and the team plays at Port Jefferson Saturday in Week 2.
Board president Michael Lewis said the investigation is ongoing.
“I would rather it take a little bit longer than obviously everyone here wants, but I’d rather get it right than be quick to make a determination right now,” he said during the meeting.
He added that the board is expecting to review additional information by the end of the week. There’s no exact timetable for when a decision is made, he said.
In an interview after the meeting, Mr. Lewis said the board has been interviewing coaches and players.
“Everyone’s very cooperative, we’ve had no issues with that,” he said.
He confirmed the board members have seen video from the incident. He said some of the board members went to Islip and reviewed video from a surveillance camera. They haven’t interviewed anyone from Islip.
“It’s all internal,” he said.
The board met for more than two hours Monday night during an emergency executive session that was closed to the public.
Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River senior Xavier Arline addressed the Board of Education at Tuesday night’s meeting. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)