Unsportsmanlike conduct

Some Hawaii coaches cursed players.
Others allegedly went drinking with them.
Parents ask why they are allowed
to be such poor role models
for their children.

HONOKAA, Hawaii » As high school football seasons go, this one will be remembered as a coaching disaster.

Five months after it ended, people still shake their heads, wondering how a mentoring program could go so awry.

Halfway into Honokaa High School's 2004 schedule, one coach popular with players and parents quit -- in the middle of a big game -- because of what he considered a season-long buildup of inexcusable conduct by the other coaches.

A few weeks later, after parents demanded that the Honokaa administration rein in the program, another coach was fired and two more were asked to resign with several games remaining.

The fired coach admitted giving pills to a few players before one game -- a violation of Department of Education policy -- and the two who resigned were accused of using inappropriate language and non-supportive behavior with the boys.

Even before the three coaches left, a parent in October filed a police complaint against another assistant, accusing him of striking his son during practice. A criminal investigation is pending.

By the time the dust settled after Honokaa's tumultuous 3-7 season, the administration decided to replace the rest of the 10-member coaching staff.

Art Souza, then-Honokaa principal, said the coaches' oversight of the players was inadequate, use of abusive language was widespread and the coaches, as a group, didn't measure up as role models.

"We basically terminated the coaching staff," Souza said.

Several of the former coaches said the problems were blown out of proportion, stirred up by supporters of assistant coach Chris Crespi, who quit in mid-season. Crespi's supporters, the former coaches said, were upset he didn't get the head coaching job for this year.

"To me, it's all sour grapes," said Bobby Embernate, one of the two coaches asked to resign in October. "I think plenty of this stuff is exaggerated."

But members of more than a dozen players' families told the Star-Bulletin that they or their sons witnessed numerous examples of unsportsmanlike conduct by coaches, that Crespi was the only positive role model and that the administration was responsible for letting the situation get out of hand.

"They were just, I hate to say it, idiots," parent Jason Johansen said of the problem coaches. "They didn't teach the boys good values."

This building at Honokaa High School houses classrooms, a weight room and other facilities. Several football players alleged that coaches struck or manhandled them during practices at the school. After the team's tumultuous 3-7 season last year, the administration decided to replace the entire coaching staff.

The turmoil that plagued Honokaa was only the latest example of Hawaii high school coaches gone amok -- or at least the latest that has bubbled to the surface, drawing media scrutiny.

In the past few years, problems have been reported at schools on Oahu, the Big Island and Lanai.

Since March, administrators have fired coaches at Lanai and Kahuku high schools for allegedly providing their underage players with alcohol. In January, a Punahou wrestling coach was suspended and an assistant fired following a practice match in which a student wrestler was roughed up by the assistant.

But none of the recent cases seems to match in scope or intensity the alleged inappropriate behavior of the Honokaa coaches, according to the dozen-plus families who had players on last year's varsity or junior varsity teams. This is the first time their story is being told publicly.

The parents and players described example after example portraying a coaching staff facing little oversight and little accountability -- until parents demanded action in a tense October meeting with school administrators.

The parents and players told the Star-Bulletin that coaches frequently cursed at the boys, calling them fags, girls, losers and an assortment of other belittling names, some too obscene for publication.

They said coaches struck or physically manhandled athletes during practices and sometimes pressured them to play while injured or sick because of a macho, win-at-all-cost mentality.

Johansen said one assistant coach grabbed his son by the throat and threw him to the ground at a pre-season practice, apparently because the boy wasn't paying attention to what was happening on the field. The coach, Victor Regidor, later apologized, Johansen said.

That same coach struck another player at practice, prompting the father, Mike Marquez, to file a complaint with police, Marquez said.

The case has since been referred to prosecutors, according to county documents, parents and Crespi. The Prosecutor's Office didn't respond to a request for comment Friday.

Regidor could not be reached for comment.

Jennifer Cook, who had two boys playing for Honokaa last year, said she saw head coach Paul Purdy lift a player by his chest and, with other teammates watching, toss him several feet backward, where he landed on his buttocks.

"It was meant to ridicule him in front of the other kids," Cook said.

Job Tavares, a sophomore, said one player quit on the spot after being slapped around by a coach.

Purdy denied that he or any of his assistants physically abused players. He said some parents may have mistook contact drills in which a player was knocked down by a coach as being abusive.

Souza, the principal during last year's season, said he was unaware of any physical abuse, other than the incident involving the Johansen boy.

Parents and players said verbal abuse was much more prevalent, especially when the boys made mistakes in practice. They would be called profanity-laced names, the players and parents said, prompting some boys to quit.

Lori Higgins said her son "was just amazed at how degrading the coaches were. He would come home (from practices) sort of demoralized."

Koryn Billings, 17, a junior, said coaches swore at one overweight player so much that the boy often was reduced to tears.

"He would try his best, but no matter what he did, it wasn't good enough for the coaches," Billings said.

Several coaches acknowledged that they swore but said it wasn't meant to be demeaning and likely was no different than what is heard at other football practice fields.

"The kids swear worse than me," Embernate said. "You try and show me one football program where there's no swearing."

Robin Lorenzo, the other coach who was asked to resign in October, declined comment.

Former assistant coach for the Honokaa High School football team Chris Crespi joined the coaching staff last year after arriving from California, but resigned mid-season. Crespi said as a newcomer he tried his best to deal with the inappropriate behavior without going outside the athletic department. By the fifth game he said he feared he was being shoved aside, giving him no say in how the team was run.

Worse than the language, some parents and players said the coaches did not put the boys' health and safety as their top priority.

Vincent Jenkins, 15, said he was told to practice even though he complained of dizziness, nausea and a sore head resulting from an earlier tackle that day. The next day he saw the doctor and learned he had a concussion, his parents said.

Clint Guerpo, 17, recalled a time the head coach made him stay after practice to run extra drills. While doing so, Guerpo collapsed, started gasping for breath, felt light-headed and was unable to get up, the player said.

The head coach walked by him without saying a word, Guerpo said. "I collapsed, and he just left me there and kept walking," Guerpo said. "I was starting to panic."

Fortunately, Crespi, the assistant coach, returned to the field, saw the boy in distress and came to his aid, Guerpo said.

Purdy, the head coach, said he didn't recall the incident but denied that players were forced to play if injured.

He dismissed allegations of verbal and physical abuse as misplaced or based on misunderstandings, especially from parents who don't know much about the game. "This is football. At times, a coach is going to go about and be aggressive and swear."

One of the more serious incidents involved Eric Dela Rosa, an assistant about 19 or 20 years old, according to some parents and Souza.

Without the head coach's knowledge, Dela Rosa gave three or four boys over-the-counter energy supplements before a game and was dismissed once the administration learned about it, Souza said.

Tavares, the sophomore, said he and other linemen got the small brownish pills before two big games. Another player said he took them before most games.

Dela Rosa could not be reached for comment. Purdy said the pills were Tylenol, not energy supplements. Coaches are prohibited from giving any medication or supplements to players.

Besides on-the-field problems, parents said questionable behavior was evident off the field as well.

In one instance, parent Andy Boteilho said he arranged to have his employer donate a 600-to-700-pound steer to the team so the boys could eat steak and other choice beef during summer camp and post-game potlucks.

But the steaks never were served to the players, Boteilho and Crespi said. "If I knew I couldn't have trusted these people, honestly, I would've done the cooking and serving myself," Boteilho said.

Purdy said the beef was served during three meals at the camp, at several potlucks and a team barbecue.

Duane De Luz, Honokaa's assistant athletic director, said the football program never had such turmoil until Crespi, a former California resident, joined the coaching staff last year.

As a newcomer, Crespi said he tried as best he could to deal with the inappropriate behavior without going outside the athletic department. But by the fifth game he said he feared he was being shoved aside, giving him no say in how the team was run. That's when he quit and later met with Souza.

Some parents wonder why it took so long for the administration to act, though a few acknowledged not speaking up until October for fear their sons would get less playing time.

Souza and Keith Tolentino, Honokaa's athletic director, said the school responded as soon as the concerns were brought to their attention. Souza said his main goal was to make immediate changes as warranted and then allow the players to finish the season with dignity.

All Honokaa coaches are now required to take a positive coaching class as a result of last year's football problems. "That's one of the good things that came out of that ugliness," Souza said.

Despite such changes, some parents questioned whether any improvements will last. Several noted the school hired Regidor, one of the football assistants who wasn't retained, to help coach Honokaa's baseball team this year.

"I might have overlooked that," Tolentino responded.

Under the direction of Ron Marciel, the new football head coach, several players said spring practice this year is nothing like last year. When they make mistakes, the players said, they aren't yelled at and called names.

"We're not used to that," Billings said. "It's a whole bunch different."


Other incidents

Other coaching controversies:

» April 2005: Head coach of Kahuku High & Intermediate School's girls softball team was fired for allegedly providing alcohol to some of his players and drinking with them. An assistant coach faced similar accusations.
» March 2005: Two coaches at Lanai High School were fired and nine of 11 players on the girls basketball team were dismissed over allegations they drank alcohol together on a trip to Oahu. Police opened an investigation.
» January 2005: Punahou suspended its wrestling coach and fired an assistant after a student was injured in a practice match with the assistant. The match was part of "brawl day," a no-holds-barred training session in which coaches wrestled students.
» November 2004: A federal agency says three incidents occurred at Hilo High School in which school coaches used abusive language about several races, physically mishandled a student and threatened a parent. The problems stemmed from the school's football program in October 2003.
» December 2002: Iolani's varsity boys soccer coach resigns following a hazing incident while the team was on the Big Island for a tournament. Older boys directed the younger ones to engage in questionable behavior as part of a hazing ritual. The team was placed on one-week suspension and forfeited two league matches.

Source: Star-Bulletin

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