A majority of Verona (N.J.) football players told school administrators that Lou Racioppe, the former head coach, or his assistant coaches grabbed their face masks inappropriately, pushed players past exhaustion and reprimanded players for coming out of practice when they were in pain, according to survey results released Saturday by the school board president.
The results of the 16-question survey were used in the investigation of complaints lodged against Racioppe by parents of players, John Quattrocchi, the school board president, said in an emailed statement.
“When given the chance to elaborate on responses, the vast majority of the students reported very similar details / examples that impacted them directly,” Quattrocchi wrote.
The district’s investigation into those complaints ended Wednesday, according to Quattrocci.
Racioppe was fired from his head coaching position the same day, according to NJ.com. He had been reportedly suspended ahead of the Oct. 13 game against North Warren. Earlier that week, the students were interviewed, practice was canceled and an interim head coach was appointed, according to Quattrocci.
Quatrocci’s statement does not say that Racioppe was fired from his position.
In follow-up statements emailed by Quattrocci, the board president said that the school board has not taken a vote to fire anyone from the school district, but the team continues to be led by an interim coach.
Instead of firing Racioppe, may chose not to reappoint him as coach next year.
“Coaches are hired for the year they coach a sport and the contract terminates. Each year, the Board appoints (hires) coaches for the new year/sport seasons,” Quatrocci wrote. “The superintendent can reassign a staff member, if required. That does not involve Board action.”
Racioppe did not respond to a calls for comment Sunday.
The survey questions offer the clearest picture to date of what school officials were probing in relation to the Racioppe’s leadership of the team. The exact nature of the complaints, which came from parents of players in early October, have been kept confidential, but they are not criminal in nature, Quattrocci has said.
In addition to the questions about Racioppe or his assistant coaches allegedly grabbing face masks and pushing players to exhaustion, district officials asked if Racioppe has used sprints as a form of punishment on hot days, if he ever used foul language and if he ever made a player cry.
Despite the seemingly negative responses to key questions, all the players said nothing inappropriate was happening on the team that would cause them discomfort.
The responses to the survey released Saturday aggregated the answers of 47 of the 55 players on the team, according to Quattrocci. Students that did not attend school on the day the survey was conducted were not interviewed.
Responses from starting players on the varsity squad were broken out to help school officials determine if there was a difference between how starters reported their coaches actions and how back-up players viewed them.
“The district analyzed the data to identify patterns of responses for the whole team versus what starters shared,” Quattrocci wrote. “This analysis was conducted to control if, for example, players filed complaints as a result of being disgruntled about playing time.”
The student responses were shared with the township Board of Education on Oct. 23, according to Quattrocci. Parents of players, alumni and student-athletes attended a school board meeting that evening to voice their support of Racioppe’s leadership. And one mother of a student-athlete complained that the young men were interviewed without their parents consent or participation.
The sudden suspension of Racioppe in October drew similar reactions from former players days after the North Warren game. Many former players said they regarded Racioppe as a role model.