NAUGATUCK - An investigation into by the Naugatuck High School football program has unveiled at least three CIAC rules infringements.
A 32-page report given by the town attorney to the Board of Education Tuesday states rules were violated when the school's longtime former football coach gave money to the mother/legal guardian of two standout football players considering a transfer to NHS from a Waterbury private school.
"It is entirely clear that the disbursement of these funds would not have been provided...but for the significant skills and talents of the student-athletes," the report states. (A full copy of the report is attached to this article.)
The Board of Ed. voted unanimously Tuesday to accept the report and submit a copy to the CIAC, which could fine the school district up to $10,000 for each of the three rules violations, and possibly more if the CIAC finds more rules were broken. The school could also face other, more harsh penalties, such as a suspension of the football program and/or other sports.
"We believe that the CIAC will act in a timely manner, and we trust that they will be fair," said Board of Education Chairman Dave Heller, adding that the school district will abide by any penalties the CIAC deems necessary but hopes that student-athletes - those from both Naugatuck and the players who were allegedly recruited from Waterbury - are not adversely affected.
The violations occurred when former NHS Coach Rob Plasky and NHS booster club president Frank Johnson Jr. gave $1,000 to Meme Martin, the mother of Javon Martin and the legal guardian of David Coggins, both standout football players and seniors at Sacred Heart in Waterbury. The money to be put toward paying some of the outstanding private school tuition for the two boys; the debt was prohibiting a transfer to NHS as the school was withholding transcripts for the students until the debt was paid.
According to report, Martin complained about a lack of money and several personal problems, includingh health issues and a pending divorce, to Plasky. The coach contacted Johnson asking if he could help; the two met with Martin in the NHS parking lot on a Saturday afternoon and Johnson wrote her a check for $1,000, the report states. The money came from the account of the NHS Football Alumni Association, which raises money for the football program.
Johnson told investigators that he originally believed he was doing a good deed until he read the CIAC rulebook a few days after giving Martin the check; he said he read it because questions were raised about the transfer on a local football blog. Johnson learned that it was in violation of CIAC rules and told Plasky that they needed to reveal what they had done to NHS Athletic Director Tom Pompei, which they did on Aug. 20. Pompei, who had no prior knowlege of the alleged wrongdoing, immediately took steps to self report its possible violations to the CIAC, the report states. The school system immediately launched an internal investigation overseen by borough attorney Ned Fitzpatrick. Plasky resigned on Aug. 23 after 11 years as coach.
That investigation concluded that three clear violations occurred:
- When Plasky and Johnson gave Martin the $1,000 check;
- When Plasky had contact with the mother regarding the possible transfer;
- When Plasky paid $355 to send Coggins, Martin and another Sacred Heart player to football camp. (There is a discrepancy over whether Martin's ex-husband gave Plasky $300 to repay some of the debt: Martin says he did while Plasky denies that claim.)
The report, which has dozens of pages of addenda including statements from 12 people with a possible involvement, describes Johnson as distraught over the situation because he thought he was doing the right thing. He wrote in the memo field that the money was a loan and that Martin could pay it back over time to help other students; he said he gave Martin a check because he "wanted it to be on the up and up," according to the report.
"It is worth nothing," the report states. "that the three parties involved in the transaction all expressed that they felt very good about what had transpired and that a good deed was being done for a family in dire need. Mr. Johnson and Coach Plasky stated to this investigator that at no point during this meeting did it occur to either of them that any wrongdoing was being done or that any rules were being broken. The actions of both men were motivated by their generous nature and strong Christian beliefs."
Still, in the end, the CIAC rulebook prohibits their actions.
"The incidents set forth in the above report constitute clear violations of the CIAC Bylaws and are not justifiable," the report's final paragrph reads. "The occurrences, whether motivated by well-meaning individuals engulfed by a combination of exuberance over obtaining a top-rated player, poor judgement, or sympathies for a family in certain distress, necessitate the imposition of structural changes in the relationship of the school (including mandatory training and financial controls) and, at least, football-related booster clubs."