Canton City Schools fire 7 football coaches accused of forcing a Hebrew Israelite student to eat pork

Updated: Jun. 3, 2021 at 6:19 AM EDT
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CANTON, Ohio (WOIO) - Canton City Schools held a special meeting Thursday evening that addressed a controversy involving seven McKinley High School football coaches and a student-athlete.

19 News has now learned a school surveillance video of the incident on May 24th has been handed over as part of the Canton Police investigation into the incident.

All seven coaches allegedly involved in the incident, including Head Coach Marcus Wattley, were fired from their coaching positions by a unanimous vote of the Canton City Board of Education. This happened during a special meeting. The others were removed from their coaching positions: Cade Brodie, Tyler Thatcher, Romero Harris, Frank McLeod, Zachary Sweat, and Josh Grimsley.

However, they were not fired from their day jobs. Their main positions with the school district will be addressed procedurally 19 News has learned on Monday.

The eighth coach on staff had no involvement, according to Superintendent Jeff Talbert, “What is on that videotape show that what happened on the 24th was an ill-managed attempt to instill discipline in our students. The type of behavior that took place was inappropriate, divisive, and demeaning.”

Antonio Hall, a McKinley graduate currently working as the athletic director, will serve as the interim head coach.

The coaches were placed on administrative leave last week after reportedly forcing a 17-year-old football player to violate the tenets of his religion by eating pork.

Wattley and six assistant coaches forced the student-athlete to eat a pepperoni pizza after he missed a weight lifting session, according to his family’s attorney Edward L. Gilbert.

The punishment for missing practice was traumatizing and disrespectful for the McKinley High junior, who is Hebrew Israelite and keeps Kosher, Gilbert said.

But Attorney Peter Pattakos, just hired by former coach Wattley says, “The board only spoke to him (Wattley) for 18 minutes. There are assistant coaches that were told today they were losing their jobs. They didn’t even get a chance to speak to anyone who’s making these decisions, and they’ve been terminated without even being spoken to. We have asked the school board to wait at least a week to perform a thorough investigation of this alleged incident because what has happened here has been misrepresented by people who are interested in lying about Marcus Wattley.”

A group of football players from McKinley that showed up to the special meeting of the school board also told reporters that out of forty team members, only three were questioned about the incident by the administration.

The school district filed a report Tuesday with the Canton Police Department, according to a statement shared with 19 News. Police are investigating the incident as possible hazing, the statement said.

“Our results will be turned over to the Canton City Prosecutor’s Office for a determination on any charges,” Police Chief Jack Angelo said in the statement.

The student’s family is considering a first amendment lawsuit against the school district; Gilbert told 19 News on Tuesday.

In a statement shared to Facebook Wednesday night, Superintendent Jeff Talbert said the school district’s investigation has concluded.

“The investigation found that the identified coaches engaged in actions that constituted inappropriate, demeaning, and divisive behavior in a misguided attempt to instill discipline in the student-athletes. This behavior will not be tolerated, and further disciplinary measures for staff, which have not yet been determined, will follow. The District will continue to follow Board Policies and protocols regarding personnel issues. Once disciplinary measures are determined, in accordance with our commitment to transparency, we will release additional information.”

Read Superintendent Talbert’s full statement by clicking here.

In a new statement released by Attorney Peter Pattakos, who represents former head coach Marcus Wattley he says in part:

“The most important thing for Mr. Wattley at this point is that the truth comes out so that his name is cleared of these ridiculous charges against him, and we will make sure that happens. In the meantime, district leadership, including Jeff Talbert and every board member who approved this decision, should be ashamed, not least for making such a momentous decision based on such an obviously faulty and rushed investigation. Wattley and his staff deserved better than this, and more importantly, so did the young man in that locker room and the whole Canton McKinley community.”

Editor’s Note: 19 News originally said the student-athlete is Jewish. The story is updated to reflect he is Hebrew Israelite. We regret the error.

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