Cuba High School’s football program had a bad first week of the new season, and that’s before even a single game snap was taken on the playing field.
Allegations came forward of locker room hazing incidents carried out by members of the football squad, and those allegations were later confirmed to be true, based upon interviews of current football athletes and the coaching staff. School administrators handed down disciplinary punishment for three players believed to have participated or instigated the bullying, and head coach Jake Montalbano resigned from his coaching position in advance of Friday night’s season opener at Herculaneum.
A statement issued by the office of Superintendent Jon Earnhart was sent home to parents of the entire team on Wednesday (Aug. 28) notifying them of the hazing allegations and informing parents of disciplinary steps the district was taking as a result of an inquiry into the matter last week. Earnhart’s memo asked parents to show patience while administrators worked through the situation and stated that the school district “has and will continue to act in accordance with our policies to address this matter and provide the safe environment that our community expects.”
The controversy came to light when school administrators were informed of hazing incidents in direct violation of school bullying policy being carried out by upperclassmen of the football squad. According to the superintendent, the allegations came from players on the team, and though he did not provide specific details about the incidents, Earnhart described it as “a hazing and bullying type of behavior that had been normal activity on the team over the span of several years.” The bullying acts were said to have involved multiple victims and on multiple occasions. Upon learning of the allegations, school officials conducted an internal inquiry into the matter, interviewing every member of the 2019 football team and its coaching staff, some of them more than once.
Earnhart said the school’s investigation only served to corroborate the allegations that had come to light.
“We have reason to believe these things did happen as was stated, based on the numerous interviews we held,” he said. “While no one was actually physically harmed in a severe way, there was intent to intimidate and the threat of physical harm. These actions were very inappropriate. These are things that should not happen in the locker room.”
The hazing abuse was perpetrated by upperclassmen upon younger players on the squad, and while it was found to be an institutional problem that had gone on undetected or unreported for years, the disciplinary actions carried out by the district were related only to bullying acts from the 2019 football season.
“There were numerous statements made that this kind of thing was normal behavior in the football locker room, and that’s unacceptable,” Earnhart said. “The culture was such that it was considered normal – just what we do – and that’s what was most concerning, because it’s not typical behavior. This is not just what guys do. When students are afraid to come forward to talk about what’s going on for fear of the repercussions, that’s a big red flag.”
Three players on the team received school discipline as a result of the inquiry, ranging in severity from a suspension of game participation to out-of-school suspension, based on their degree of involvement in hazing acts this year.
Members of the coaching staff were also disciplined by the district. Montalbano was placed on administrative leave during the inquiry and later submitted his letter of resignation as football coach. He will maintain teaching duties at the high school and also serve as an assistant track coach next spring. The board of education was to meet this week in closed session to formally accept his resignation.
Superintendent Earnhart said the locker room problems stemmed from “supervision, or the lack thereof,” and he feels there was an “unwritten understanding [among the players] that if you tell, you’ll get it even worse. That’s what we are led to believe by the students. Their statements about the behavior indicates that it went on for multiple seasons and has been much worse in the past.”
Earnhart said the coaching staff had to be held accountable for what was going on, whether or not they knew of the bullying activity or had encouraged the bad behavior.
“If kids are being properly supervised, then these things aren’t going to happen,” he said. “They aren’t ever going to take place. Ultimately, the head coach is responsible for what happens in the program as the head of the program. It’s unfortunate that it had to happen this way, but I think there’s a clear understanding of things that are not going to be tolerated going forward. I think that message has been made pretty clear at this point.”
Earnhart said that bullying concerns would be addressed throughout the district’s athletics programs, both with the participating athletes and coaching staff, and immediate changes would be instituted within the football program to improve the locker room environment.
“The first thing we do with our football program is shore up our supervision issues, and then I think we restructure our practice schedules and how we take care of the locker room,” he said. “I think we have to instill a little more discipline within the program and reestablish some very clear expectations.”
Assistant coach Tim Duarte has taken over head coaching duties for the Wildcats football team this season – beginning with a home game Friday against Houston – and the administration will look to hire another assistant coach to fill the coaching vacancy resulting from his promotion, although Earnhart was not sure how quickly that position would be filled.