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By Rich Thomaselli
In a move that had been expected since summer, a lawsuit was filed in United States District Court Northern District of New York in Albany accusing Marlboro High School football coach Rich Ward of verbal and physical abuse.
The suit was filed by Thomas Corcoran, who previously coached with the Marlboro football program, and Al and Kerstin Votta, on behalf of their children Thomas Corcoran III and Justin and Ralph Votta. Former players Jimmy Farrett, Dominic Santora and Dylan West are also plaintiffs.
Apparently unsatisfied with three separate internal investigations done by the school district, the group filed suit Monday against Ward, the Marlboro School District and Marlboro School Superintendent Raymond Castellani. The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages against Ward and Castellani, and asks that Ward be relieved of his duties as Marlboro’s coach.
The suit not only accuses Ward of physical and verbal abuse, but also of instructing his players to intentionally injure opposing players from New Paltz and Spackenkill high schools, respectively, and alleges that Ward used a racial epithet against his own African-American player, T.J. Henderson. Henderson’s mother was quoted over the summer in the Southern Ulster Times disputing the allegation.
The plaintiffs are being represented by Goshen attorney Michael Sussman. It is not known if Sussman is handling the case pro bono as part of a history of high-profile civil rights cases against schools and school districts, including at least two other suits involving high school athletes. In 2003 Sussman successfully argued that Warwick High School failed to give due process to a volleyball player who had been suspended; three years later, he won the reinstatement of a Warwick football player who had been kicked off the football team, arguing the player’s future was being compromised as he had a legitimate chance to earn a college scholarship through his athletic achievements. The player was restored to the team.
Ward, who was hired in 2010, is 40-5 over four years leading the Iron Dukes, including three consecutive Section Nine, Class B championships and back-to-back appearances in the New York State semifinals.
He is alleged, among other things, of using the F-word on multiple occasions; of grabbing players’ facemasks and jerking their heads; of using a sexist slur against Marlboro athletic director Jonnah O’Donnell; of using a racial epithet against Henderson; and of instructing his players to injure Spackenkill’s Josh Riley and New Paltz’s Khariff LaBoy and his cousin, Darryl Clark.
Former Spackenkill player Nick Celestino tweeted:
Coach Ward is a great coach and Marlboro has a program. This entire thing is just stupid
— nicky celestino (@nickycelestino) December 4, 2013
It is not known if the attorneys for the Marlboro Central School District will represent Ward, Castellani and the district, or if, as individuals, Ward and Castellani will retain their own counsel.