Investigation finds violations of CIAC bylaws
NAUGATUCK — An investigation into potential recruiting violations surrounding the Naugatuck High School football program concluded that violations indeed did occur.
Borough attorney Ned Fitzpatrick, who conducted the investigation, presented his report to the Board of Education during a special meeting Tuesday night.
The report cited three violations of Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference bylaws by former football coach Rob Plasky, who resigned Aug. 24.
Among the violations was a payment of $1,000 to Meme Martin, the mother of student-athlete Javon Martin and guardian of student-athlete David Coggins. The money went to pay off tuition at Sacred Heart High School in Waterbury, where both students had attended.
“…It is entirely clear that the disbursement of these funds would not have been provided to Ms. Martin but for the significant skill and talents exhibited by at least one of the student-athletes. Accordingly, this tender of payment constitutes a privilege not afforded to non-athletes and is expressly prohibited by the CIAC bylaws,” the report reads.
The report also found that Plasky paid $355 in registration fees for Javon Martin, Coggins, and a third student who is currently enrolled at Sacred Heart to attend a Central Connecticut State University football camp this summer.
According to the report, while there is still a dispute over whether Plasky was reimbursed by Meme Martin’s husband, there is no dispute that the registration fees, in whole or in part, were advanced by him.
Plasky was later reimbursed the money by the Naugatuck High School Football Alumni Association, the report states.
According to the report, Plasky was also in contact with the student-athletes, which goes against the CIAC’s bylaws regarding undue influence.
“In this case, there exists a series of contacts between the coach and mother of the student-athletes and some contact between the coach and student-athletes directly,” the report states.
The report goes on to say that, while this contact may not have been a specific violation of the CIAC bylaws, it permitted the development of a dependent relationship between Meme Martin and Plasky, which led to the payment of $1,000.
According to the report, Plasky decided to assist Meme Martin, who was having a difficult time paying for tuition at Sacred Heart High School.
Sacred Heart wouldn’t release the transcripts of Javon Martin and Coggins until their tuition balance was paid and they took their final exams, thus blocking their transfer to Naugatuck High.
Meme Martin reached out to Plasky, explaining the players wanted to attend Naugatuck High School, but that she had fallen on difficult financial times.
“Finally, she told coach Plasky that she had recently been diagnosed with a serious health condition that would require her to undergo surgery in the near future,” the report states.
According to the report, Meme Martin’s motive was to seek guidance about her current situation. She told Fitzpatrick, according to the report, that her personal and family life was breaking down and that she had no other family to turn to, so she looked to Plasky for support.
Plasky stated in the report that Meme Martin came to him and told him that her health was worsening and her husband did not have the funds to help the family. Plasky stated that she was hysterical and pleading for help, saying that she was unable to help her boys.
At first, Plasky told Meme Martin that he could not help her, the report states.
“When pressed further by Ms. Martin, he said he would place a call to a friend who runs an alumni association to see what he could do,” the report states.
Plasky contacted Franklin Johnson, the co-founder and acting director of the Naugatuck High School Football Alumni Association, to inquire if the association could help Meme Martin.
Johnson met with Meme Martin and Plasky on Aug. 11 at the high school. According to the report, after hearing her story, Johnson told Meme Martin that he would like to help her out, as the NHSFAA has assisted others in need in the past.
According to the report, Johnson wrote a check out in the amount of $1,000, made payable to Milagros Martin, with the word “loan” written on the memo line.
“This ‘loan’ to Ms. Martin was made in that same spirit and in the spirit of a number of other opportunities over the past 11 years where NHSFAA helped other individuals and families in need,” Johnson states in the report.
Johnson told Meme Martin, according to the report, that she could pay back some or all of the money is she was ever possible to do so.
“Contextually, it is worth noting that the three parties involved in this transaction all expressed that they felt very good about what had transpired and that a good deed was being done for a family in dire need,” the report states.
Johnson and Plasky said it did not occur to them at any point during the meeting that any wrongdoing was being done or that any rules were being broken.
“The actions of both men were motivated by their generous nature and strong Christian beliefs,” the report states.
Meme Martin said, according to the report, she was extremely grateful that Plasky and Johnson were willing to help her and her family when others were not.
After writing the check, the report states, Johnson began to be concerned when he read comments on a sports blog that referenced the CIAC handbook and its rules regarding transfers.
“After doing some research, Mr. Johnson was very disturbed to learn that the money he had given Ms. Martin was a possible violation of the CIAC rules,” the report states.
Johnson contacted Plasky and told him about the possible violation. Plasky recommended that they contact Naugatuck Athletic Director Tom Pompei and report their conduct. Pompei in turn informed Naugatuck High Principal Janice Saam of the situation and the investigation followed.
When administrators were made aware of the violations they acted promptly, self-reporting the incident to the CIAC, the report states.
According to the report, the final contact between Meme Martin and Plasky was on Aug. 20, when Plasky called her to apologize, inform her that a violation had occurred, and tell her that he would probably be fired.
The report also found that, at no time prior to Aug. 20, were the student-athletes aware of the violations that were occurring or that Meme Martin had accepted a payment on their behalf.
In light of the report’s findings, Fitzpatrick made four recommendations in the report the school district should implement.
First, that the district requires the attendance of all booster club officers and directors at each of its seasonal in-house training and information sessions.
Second, that no booster club connected with high school sports, whose officers have not attended the mandatory in-house training session, can participate in any high school fundraising activity connected to the programs.
Third, that all booster clubs connected with high school sports must account for all income and expenses to the central treasury at the high school in an account maintained by the high school principal.
Fourth, that all football coaches and booster club officers must attend CIAC-sponsored training seminars at intervals and topics as determined by the CIAC. And proof of attendance should be provided to the high school principal.
The report also found that there had been no evidence of a systematic or habitual abuse of the CIAC bylaws with regards to the recruitment of other student-athletes.
The CIAC also received the report Tuesday night and will decide on possible penalties for Naugatuck High School at its Sept. 20 board meeting, Executive Director Karissa Niehoff said.
Recruitment violations carry a fine of up to $10,000. The CIAC board will decide whether to count each payment as a separate violation or whether they together constitute one violation, Niehoff said.
The board will also have to decide whether to multiply the penalty amount by the number of students who benefited from the payments, Niehoff said.
Naugatuck High’s football program could also be put on probation or barred from the postseason, Niehoff said.
The control board will also decide the fate of Martin and Coggins, who have re-enrolled at Sacred Heart. Coggins is an all-state receiver who has committed to play next year at Boston College. They are being allowed to practice but cannot play any games until the board decides, Niehoff said.
In four years on the board and three years as executive director, Niehoff said, she had not come across such a clear-cut recruiting violation.
“This is pretty egregious,” Niehoff said. “I don’t remember one where money was exchanged.”
Board of Education Chair David Heller hoped the CIAC will appreciate how much work the borough and school board put into the report.
He hoped that whatever decision the CIAC came to it would not affect the student-athletes. However, the board would not fight any decision the CIAC made, he said.
“Whatever sanctions are put in place we will comply with and implement,” Heller said.
The Republican American contributed to this article.