Coach fired in youth football controversy in Durham

DURHAM – A youth football coach in Durham was punished by the league and fired earlier this week after punishing one of his players for bullying.

Todd Kennedy of Wallingford was the head coach a Durham Middlefield Football team for 4th through 6th graders. He said he learned one of his players was bullying another at school around three weeks ago, so he addressed it as a team during practice.

“I just said, ‘Look, we’re not going to bully on this team. We’re a family. We’ve got to stick together and support one another,’” said Kennedy.

But last Tuesday, the player who was being bullied was acting off and seemed as though he didn’t want to be at practice. Kennedy told Fox 61 he decided to address it again. This time he pointed out the boy who was doing the bullying and the boy who was being bullied, and told the accused bully to run laps.

He told the player, “When you’re done getting water, I need you to run some laps and I’ll tell you when to stop.”

Kennedy said the boy ran around 5-6 laps, and after that he thought the situation was handled. But the next morning, he got a call from the league president telling him he was being suspended for his actions.

After a meeting Monday night and a unanimous vote by the board, he was removed as head coach.

“It’s just shocking. It really is,” said Kennedy.

Several other parents, including Shannon Riso, were also upset by the decision. Riso’s son no longer plays on the team.

She said, “By keeping him on that team it’s sending a message to all those kids that bullying is okay.”

Kennedy said the board told him the bullying happened at school, so the discipline should have been handled by the school.

“I had the boy that was being bullied that was not acing right. So whatever was going on in school was affecting my practice,” said Kennedy.

Kennedy said despite everything that happened he still loves coaching and would want his job back. Other parents who support him say they might protest his termination at Sunday’s game.

Fox 61 reached out to league board members for comment on this story, but did not hear back.