CIAC slams Berlin High School Football program, imposes penalties, says head coach illegally recruited players

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BERLIN -- The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Committee voted in a meeting Wednesday afternoon to accept a self-report from Berlin High School for violations of CIAC rules by its football program.

The self-report was aided by an independent investigation into whether the program illegally recruited and provided housing for players living outside the town of Berlin.

The CIAC says Berlin's head football coach, John Capodice, is solely responsible for violating conference rules and no other staff members are under investigation at this time.

The sanctions, which were approved by the board and accepted by the Berlin School District, include:

  • Forfeiture of all football victories this season in which any ineligible player participated.
  • Prohibition from CIAC Championship competition for the football program for the 2015 season.
  • Probation for one year for the football program (CIAC probation is defined as a period of trial during which the school is monitored to determine compliance with requirements of CIAC regulations.
  • The school is fined $4,000 ($1,000 for each ineligible player).
  • The ineligible athletes will be permanently ineligible to participate in athletic competition if they remain at Berlin high school.
  • If the ineligible students transfer to another CIAC member school they will be ineligible to participate in athletic competition for the remainder of the 2015-16 school year and 50 percent of the 2016 fall season.

According to a CIAC investigation, Capodice actively recruited players who weren't Berlin residents from nearby towns such as New Britain solely to play on the football team.

Capodice also allegedly promised housing for one family, and even a college scholarship for another student, according to the multiple sworn statements provided to investigators.

The hiring of private investigators, promises of scholarships and threats against players and families all came to light during the CIAC investigation into the recruiting violations.

"There's nothing factual or with findings that backs up any allegations or statements made," said Viral Keshwala, the attorney representing Capodice on Monday. "He's never been involved with any illegal recruiting of players in terms of residency. His job isn't to place families when they move here for residency issues, that's for the board of education. They determine that."

According to Keshwala, the stakes are high. "Now threats are being made to the Berlin coaches, players are being targeted on the Berlin team, from people from New Britain," he said Monday night to FOX 61.

Parents and students are stunned and disappointed.  "For a few weeks it was pretty clear that there was going to be some ramifications," said Michael Lynch, father of the Red Coats' starting quarterback, Jack. "It's really disappointing because the kids worked so hard, put all the time in the summer, and they're the one that're taking the hit here."

Berlin is still scheduled to play New Britain this Friday in an important football game.

“This is a sad day for Berlin Football," said Berlin Superintendent David Erwin. "I know how hard these students work. We’re here to support the young men of this team. We will play Friday with our heads held high.”

"We had a good team," said Lynch. "We could have made some noise once we got into the playoffs. But now we're never going to know."

On Wednesday morning, Principal Francis T. Kennedy sent the following email to parents:

In light of the sensational media coverage related to our football program over the last several weeks, I want to let you know that the upcoming New Britain-Berlin football game on Friday, November 20th will be held as scheduled at 7:00 p.m. at Willow Brook Park in New Britain. The administrations and police departments of Berlin and New Britain have planned together, and I have been assured that there will be ample police and security presence to keep order at the game.

Please know that, despite an unsubstantiated comment quoted in a November 16, 2015 FOX61.com online article, there have been no reports of harassment or threats made to or among either team.

Let us end this year’s season with the dignity and decorum that our learning communities – and the children within it - deserve.