AMBLER >> More than 50 parents, students and community members turned out for the Wissahickon School Board meeting Tuesday night to voice concerns regarding an incident involving a member of the high school football team, head football coach Paul Noon and one assistant coach.
A student, whose identity is being withheld by the district per legal protocol, made a complaint Sept. 9 concerning inappropriate statements allegedly made by Noon and one assistant coach.
District officials declined to identify Noon as the coach involved in the incident, though parents and students mentioned him by name several times during public comment.
After consulting with the district’s legal counsel, Superintendent Dr. James Crisfield decided Sept. 9 to suspend the two coaches with pay while an investigation into the incident is conducted.
The district “obtained outside legal counsel who is familiar with this kind of issue,” board Solicitor Scott Wolpert said during the Sept. 15 meeting.
While the investigation is ongoing, the board cannot make any comments on the incident or the decision to suspend the two coaches because it involves a student complaint and personnel, Wolpert said.
“It’s our job to make sure [the student and coaches’] rights are protected as the process continues,” he said. “My job is to make sure the process occurs and occurs thoroughly. I cannot tell you when the investigation will [be] complete, but it will be punctual and thorough.”
Following the decision to suspend the two coaches, high school Principal Dr. Lynn Blair notified the football team that practice for the day was cancelled.
“I did hear your concerns about how the dismissal was handled on Sept. 9,” Crisfield said before opening up the Sept. 15 meeting to public comment. “It took us all day to consult with legal counsel to come to the decision [to suspend the two coaches] and cancel practice that day.”
The administration held a Sept. 10 meeting with the parents to hear their concerns on the matter and discuss the incident.
“We chose to tell the players first in person, then have the players deliver a letter home to the parents. The decision to tell the team first was a nod to [them] being young adults,” Crisfield said. “I understand some of you may disagree with my decision to suspend the coaches, but I will not reverse it given what I know and cannot share.”
He concluded his comments by adding that, while the board cannot say when the investigation will be completed, “conclusion is expected by the end of the month.”
“My top priority is the well-being and safety of all students, and the privacy and respect of my faculty’s rights,” he added. “Please know we are acting on the course of legal advice. We are not assuming anything until the investigation is concluded. This has been one of the most trying weeks of my career.”
Once open to public comment, multiple parents of football players cited the manner in which the suspension was handled, and the cancelled practice, as their largest complaints.
Jim Gorman, a Wissahickon parent, said many of the parents believe it was a rash decision to suspend the two coaches.
“We all agreed that coach Noon was no danger to the students, and we believe he could have carried out his responsibilities while the investigation was ongoing,” Gorman said. “We have some concerns about how things were handled. [Crisfield] and Blair chose to cancel practice after the buses left, with no real consideration for how the kids would get home. They put 50 children at risk, versus one coach putting one child at risk.”
Mike Marino, a Wissahickon High School student and member of the football team, also addressed his concerns to the board during public comment.
“We were confused why we couldn’t be coached by the four guys who were still able to coach us and prepare us for Friday’s game,” he said.
His comments were followed by those of Kyle Moynahan, another high school football player.
“When I first heard coach Noon was suspended, it was a foreign idea to me. Coach Noon is someone who does everything the right way, even if it isn’t the easy way. He cares a great deal about the team,” he said.
During concluding public comment, more parents voiced concerns about the “emotional state of the 50 kids who lost their coach,” and asked the board to consider offering counseling to the football players who felt distressed.
“We as a board will discuss it and figure something out,” promised board member Tracie Walsh.
While the investigation continues, Mike Borkowski, an assistant coach for the team, will serve as interim head coach. The district also added Jim Cairnes and Jim Kelly to the football coaching staff on an interim basis.
“As this situation involves a personnel matter and out of respect for the parties involved, the district cannot by law comment further at this time,” concluded the Wissahickon School District official statement on the incident.