CONCORD, Calif. — Last week, for the second time in a year, a football player at high-profile De La Salle was arrested on sexual assault charges involving a student at Carondelet, the all-girls school adjacent to all-boys De La Salle in this town of 130,000 a half-hour drive east of San Francisco. As the second case wends its way through juvenile court, the schools and the football team are trying to learn from the incidents.
“It’s disappointing,” De La Salle president Mark DeMarco said. “I can’t be with the kids, 24-7. That’s the problem. I always say that we polish the gem the parents give us. We help them polish them, but I can’t raise a kid for them.”
In May, a De La Salle freshman football player was found guilty of sexually assaulting a Carondelet student on the De La Salle campus in November 2016. Because he was tried as a juvenile, his name has not been released. He faces up to 10 years of confinement, but minors are not sentenced, Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney Jean Skilling told reporters in May.
A different De La Salle player, also a juvenile, was arrested last week along with a Ygnacio Valley (Concord) student by the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s office on sexual assault charges involving an off-campus incident with a Carondelet student. Jimmy Lee, a spokesman for the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s office, said he couldn’t comment on the status of the case other than it was being handled by the Contra Costa district attorney’s office.
Both De La Salle players were not on the team at the time of the incidents because they were ineligible due to academic difficulties.
After the second arrest, De La Salle and Carondelet separately sent letters to parents about the situation and held meetings for staff, faculty and students to discuss appropriate behavior, including irresponsible and hurtful social media practices. De La Salle and Carondelet had already added programs, including Mentors in Violence Prevention, and invited social activist speakers such as Tony Porter and Ashanti Branch that focus on proper male behavior.
“Our schools are working together, as we always do,” said Carondelet President Bonnie Cotter. “Over the past year, we have had programs about creating respectful dialogue and relationships. One of the things we’ve heard from students is we need to have more programs with dialogue with the boys and the girls in the same room together. They need to be having the conversations at the same time and talking to each other.
“We are just starting to take a look at what those programs will look like. I think we are going to make great strides.”
De La Salle coach Justin Alumbaugh’s thinking is in step with that of Cotter.
“It’s about education,” Alumbaugh said. “That’s what we’re doing with football. We try to educate kids on making the best decisions they properly can. You try to educate them about the proper use of social media, how to have personal accountability, how to behave and how to be a gentleman.”
That both players were ineligible at the time of the incidents doesn’t diminish the impact on De La Salle’s reputation, said De La Salle assistant coach Bob Ladouceur, formerly the team’s head coach.
“Probably in the long run, it didn’t help them that they were ineligible,” he said. “The school is doing its best to stay ahead of the curve on that, but you’re not going to be able to stop the whole thing. There are 1,050 boys here and it only takes one to have people say, ‘What are those boys like?’ Well, all the boys here are pretty good kids.
“The school does a good job here of educating kids on behaviors, on respect, sexuality, all that. We’re not remiss in understanding the social interactions between males and females.”
The arrests gained more attention because they involved students at De La Salle, the No. 18 team in the Super 25 high school football rankings and an established power that hasn’t lost to a Northern California opponent since 1992. The program’s reputation is so respected that it inspired the 2014 movie, “When the Game Stands Tall.”
“If it didn’t happen, then it isn’t in the papers,” Alumbaugh said. “We don’t run and hide from things. Nobody likes seeing a headline like that. It’s a societal problem.”
Said Cotter, the Carondelet president: “It is not an issue unique to Carondelet and De La Salle and it has nothing to do with the football program. It has everything to do with those in power and positions of prestige and influence to take what is not theirs without regard for others or consequences.”