Officials of a Main Line school district said Thursday that they had removed the entire Conestoga High School football coaching staff, and that the head coach had resigned, after an internal investigation showed that players had routinely hazed teammates for years.
"The locker rooms had an insufficient adult presence throughout the football season, creating an environment where hazing activities could occur," Tredyffrin/Easttown district officials said.
Football coach John Vogan, who also coached baseball, resigned effective immediately, the district told parents in a letter Thursday. Vogan had been suspended since allegations of hazing and assault came to light.
In addition, the district said all other varsity and junior-varsity football staff - five people - had been relieved of their coaching jobs in all sports through the fall season. The school will nonetheless participate in the football season. Staff members will have to reapply for their jobs.
The shake-up is the latest fallout in a criminal case involving one of the Main Line's most prominent public schools.
The Chester County school district's investigation stemmed from a freshman football player's allegations that three senior players held him down and penetrated his rectum with a broom handle in October.
The freshman was trying to leave a hazing ritual in which upperclassmen forced underclassmen to strip to their underwear and clean the locker room, said Thomas P. Hogan, county district attorney.
Prosecutors charged the three seniors with assault and related offenses this month.
"It's apparent the school district is taking the hazing issues very seriously and is taking appropriate action to deal with these issues," Hogan said.
School officials said they found no evidence that any adult knew about the hazing, which for years usually occurred on "No Gay Thursdays," when some football players considered certain sexual behavior permissible.
Senior Daquan Perry said Vogan called players to the auditorium Thursday to explain his resignation.
Vogan told his team he knew he would have to resign as soon as prosecutors filed charges, even though he had not known about the allegations, Perry said.
"He was a great coach," Perry said. "It hurts me to see him have to resign this way."
Outside the school Thursday afternoon, Perry and classmate Robert Ackerman said gossip and rumors had circulated around the school. They said the football team did have "No Gay Thursdays," but said the accused were unfairly considered "guilty until proven innocent," and denied that the alleged assault occurred.
"That never happened," Ackerman said.
On March 4, the day Hogan announced the charges, school officials began interviewing students and coaches. They found that some members of the football team had hazed younger players for years, corroborating prosecutors' reports.
"Disciplinary action has been administered to students as appropriate," school officials said Thursday. They did not elaborate.
Next fall's football season will go on, said Mark Cataldi, the district's director of assessment and accountability. No search for a coaching staff has begun, "but obviously it will need to be done," he said.
School officials said they would invite officials from the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association to review school practices, develop classroom lessons for all high school students that promote respect, and work with the Anti-Defamation League to emphasize tolerance and diversity.
County prosecutors said the behavior on "No Gay Thursdays" included upperclassmen putting their genitals on teammates' heads.
"Conestoga does not accept any type of intolerance, hazing, bullying, or intimidation within our school community," school officials said in their letter Thursday. " 'No Gay Thursday' is ignorant, intolerant, and has no place in any school. Even though no gay students were specific targets of discrimination, the practice itself is an affront to us all."