The head football coach of St. Patrick-St.Vincent High School was fired Friday, only weeks after he reported sexual hazing incidents involving several varsity and freshmen football players.
St. Patrick-St. Vincent Principal Mary Ellen Ryan reportedly told staff and students that Coach Chris Cerbone was fired, and that five varsity players were expelled after an investigation.
Ryan said in a statement that Cerbone was not involved in the hazing, but nevertheless was dismissed because he "had ultimate responsibility for supervising the students during the time the inappropriate behavior took place." Meanwhile, four assistant coaches, who had been placed on paid leave earlier this month pending the outcome of theinvestigation, were reinstated.
Cerbone, however, was fired.
Ryan said in her statement that she received information about the hazing shortly before the Christmas break, but did not reveal its source.
Cerbone, however, told the Times-Herald that he not only was the one who revealed the assaults to Ryan, on Dec. 19, but also offered to help in the school's investigation. He said he reported the hazing very shortly after several freshmen football players reluctantly disclosed to him what had occurred in a school locker room.
A former police officer, Cerbone had been hired to coach the varsity only last July. He said that last month, he overheard some freshmen players complaining that they did not want to be coached
When Cerbone asked them why, one student said, "Coach, you don't want to know."
"I said that I did," Cerbone told Ryan, in a Dec. 19 letter.
In that note, Cerbone told Ryan that the freshmen players claimed that earlier in the year a number of varsity players had accosted them, and that another coach had not intervened.
"I asked what he meant," Cerbone wrote Ryan, "and he began to tell me how on certain Thursdays when the coaches were not around that several varsity players would hold down certain freshman (sic) while the varsity player pulled his own pants down and either made the freshman player stick his face into the naked rear of the varsity player or the varsity player would take his genitalia out and slap the freshman player in the face with it."
Cerbone wrote Ryan that several other freshmen players revealed to him that they also were victims of the assaults, but were "afraid if they ratted out the varsity players things would get worse."
Cerbone also reported that one student said when he told another coach about the hazing, that coach said, "It's not my problem."
"If true," Cerbone told Ryan, "these allegations amount to sexual assault, if not worse. I am bringing this to your attention as my supervisor."
Asked if he had considered contacting the police about his concerns, Cerbone said he briefly had thought about it, but felt that doing so, "would be a death sentence" for his job. He therefore felt it best to notify his supervisor, in this case Ryan.
Cerbone said despite offering his police experience to aid any investigation, Ryan told him that he was not to be involved. He told the Times-Herald that he felt the safety of the students was uppermost, and he wanted to ensure that those responsible for the hazing were held accountable.
Instead, on Friday morning, Ryan fired him.
In a one-page severance letter, Ryan first thanked Cerbone for his cooperation, but added, "based on the facts we gathered during our investigation, we have determined that it was a lack of supervision within the football program that created the opportunities for students to engage in highly inappropriate behavior while on the main field on Thursday afternoons.
"Whether or not you (Cerbone) had direct knowledge of the hazing activities at the time they occurred, the fact that they could have been prevented by proper supervision makes this lapse unacceptable," Ryan wrote.
Messages left for Ryan about Cerbone's role in disclosing the hazing were not returned.
Before coaching, Cerbone was a strong safety at the University of Wyoming in the early 1980s before turning to a career in law enforcement in the New York Police Department's narcotics division. Last year, he was vice principal at Vallejo Education Academy.
Times-Herald staff writer Lanz Christian Bañes contributed to this report.