RARITAN TOWNSHIP — Like a wrestler refusing to be pinned, Steve Gibble isn’t giving up.
Five years ago, Hunterdon Central High School’s former Hall of Fame wrestling coach was removed from his position because of a bullying allegation. And though he was cleared of the allegation, Gibble has not been able to return the position and the program, one of the more successful programs in New Jersey.
“He’s been put through hell,” said Steven Farsiou, Gibble’s attorney. “How would you like it if someone labelled you as a bully?”
Though Gibble did not lose his tenured position as a teacher at the school, he can’t find a job as a coach.
“He’s been blackballed,” Farsiou said.
That’s one of the reasons why Gibble is continuing his legal fight against the school district and its lawyers.
After two full days of hearings, the Hunterdon Central school board voted 7-2 in November to reject an allegation by former Superintendent of Schools Christine Steffner that Gibble, a 1980 Hunterdon Central graduate who compiled a 348-119 record during his 22 years as head coach at the school, committed an act of bullying during a summer wrestling camp program in July 2014.
The hearing was a result of an Appellate Court decision that upheld a state Office of Administrative Law ruling, which concluded that the coach should have been afforded a hearing on the bullying charge.
That bullying charge led to his dismissal from the coaching position by the school board and the legal struggle began.
After the school board cleared Gibble of the bullying charge, Farsiou, who had previously filed a lawsuit in federal court, filed an amended lawsuit in Superior Court, adding the school district’s lawyers, The Comegno Law Group and Capehart Scatchard, as defendants.
The suit is pending before Superior Court Judge Michael O’Neill in Flemington, where motions by the two law firms to dismiss the suit will be heard on July 26.
The 47-page lawsuit lists 14 counts against the defendants, including violation of civil rights, civil conspiracy, age discrimination, malicious use of process and defamation.
The incident began in July 2014, when Gibble was a volunteer coach at a wrestling camp hosted by the Rutgers University wrestling team. The camp was not an official school-sponsored event.
One of the 400 campers, identified in the lawsuit only by his initials, was an incoming freshman at Hunterdon Central. The teen’s mother told Herbert Roy Rodriguez, who was then president of the school’s wrestling booster club, that her son did not want to be at the camp. She also told Rodriguez that her son “was not as advanced” as the other campers, according to the lawsuit.
Gibble made numerous attempts to help the teen relax at the camp, but, according to his teen’s mother, Gibble asked her son if he had any access to firearms or other weapons on the second day of the camp.
Gibble does not remember what he said, according to the lawsuit
The teen’s roommate could not remember the exact words Gibble used, but he asked the teen “does the gun cabinet have a lock?” The roommate said the teen “smirked and laughed,” according to the lawsuit.