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High school football coaches fired, accused of trying to force kosher student to eat pork

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An Ohio high school coach and six assistant coaches found themselves out of jobs after they allegedly tried to force a kosher student to eat a slice of pepperoni pizza.

The 17-year-old Jewish student plays on the football team at Canton McKinley High School. His family said that despite it being against his religious beliefs to consume pork, the coach threatened to kick him off the team and said his teammates would have to do extra drills if he didn’t eat the pizza, Fox8 reported.

“The coach had a pork pizza as a penalty for this child not showing up for practice,” family attorney Edward Gilbert said, according to WEWS-TV.  “What’s interesting is everyone on the team knows this child will not eat pork.”

Attorney Peter Pattakos, retained by head coach Marcus Wattley, countered: “That’s part of the lesson. ‘Okay, you’re special? Can I do something for you? Can I get you a pizza?’ ‘Well, I’m hungry.’ He goes and gets him a pizza. Marcus brings back the pizza. ‘Oh, it has pepperoni on it. I don’t eat pork.’ ‘I’ll go get you some chicken fingers.’ ‘No, it’s okay. I’ll just eat this pizza.’ So he took the pepperoni off and he ate the pizza.”

The student objected to eating the pizza with the pepperoni on it and was allowed to pick off the meat.

The Canton City School District Board of Education called a special meeting after an investigation, and board president John Rinaldi announced that head coach Marcus Wattley, along with six assistant football coaches, would be fired.

“The identified coaches engaged in actions that constituted inappropriate, demeaning and divisive behavior in a misguided attempt to instill discipline into student athletes,” Rinaldi said. “This behavior will not be tolerated. It has been determined that seven of the eight members of the coaching staff involved including the head coach will no longer be coaches with the Canton City School District.”

The incident reportedly took place in a school gym with surveillance cameras in place. Superintendent Jeff Talbert said it was captured by the cameras, but the video will not be released.

“That video right now has not been released because our attorneys believe that is a violation of FERPA. What is on that video shows that what happened on the 24th was an ill-managed attempt to instill discipline and accountability in our students,” Talbert said. “It was inappropriate. It was divisive, demeaning and again, does not align to our professional standards we hold our professionals to.”

There was a seventh assistant coach on the team — which makes for a total of eight football coaches on a high school team — but the investigation found that he did not participate in the incident.

As seen above, Fox8 reporter Melissa Reid noted that the school surveillance camera footage was turned over to police.

The board named current athletic director Antonio Hall the interim head high school football coach for the 2021-2022 season.

“We believe the individual we hired as the interim head coach is the right individual to lead our football team back to where it should be,” Talbert said.

Tom Tillison

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