Amid turmoil over Masuk’s football program, a meeting goes off the rails

Masuk Athletic Director Craig Semple, third from left, speaks at a meeting with parents of football players that became heated, as Superintendent Joseph Kobza, left, and Principal Steve Swensen look on.

MONROE, CT — Despite an investigation that has put a cloud over Masuk’s football program, the team continues to win on the field. The Panthers beat Cheshire 42-21 at home in the quarterfinals of the Class MM playoffs Tuesday to advance to the semifinals against Wilton this Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Board of Education met for several hours in executive session Monday to discuss the investigation into the culture of the program, but no action was taken in public session and the meeting was adjourned.

Head Football Coach Steve Christy and Associate Head Coach Eric Giordano were placed on administrative leave at the start of the investigation that began in July and, according to financial records obtained by The Sun, has cost a total of $83,916 so far.

Giordano reportedly decided to resign as a coach and has been back at Masuk as a teacher.

Throughout the process, families of Masuk football players have clashed with school administrators, complaining about, what they see as, a lack of communication. It all came to a head during a meeting on Nov. 6.

The Panthers nearly missed out on an away game against Brookfield after interim head coach, Brian Halapin, resigned. But there were still enough coaches to have the game.

However, three assistants reportedly missed the bus during all the confusion.

The administration believed volunteer coaches Mike Diaz, Erik Linderback and Ray Kobza had quit, but they did not, according to several parents who spoke to The Sun. The football families wanted them back with the team.

A meeting falls apart

Frustrated over a lack of answers about the ongoing probe, parents held their own meeting at Wolfe Park on a Sunday, Nov. 5, before Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza, Principal Steve Swensen and Athletic Director Craig Semple agreed to meet with over 60 parents and players in the Masuk Media Center on Monday, Nov. 6.

According to accounts from some who attended, when parents pressed administrators for answers about the investigation and for the three assistant coaches to be reinstated, Semple lost his temper. The episode was captured on video from a parent’s cellphone and later viewed by The Sun.

Semple can be seen ranting, pacing and aggressively pointing his finger in parents’ faces.

A father told Semple he was yelling at parents.

“Because I’ve been going through as much tragedy and stress as them,” Semple replied.

“So have our boys,” a woman said.

“I know that and they know that about me,” Semple said.

After more words were exchanged, Semple could be heard saying, “I don’t have to stay and listen to this stuff. Whatever.”

“Then I’m a s—head,” Semple said at the beginning of another clip.

“You have other people willing to help you,” a woman’s voice is heard.

“You don’t understand. You don’t know nothin’ about me,” Semple said. “This guy’s telling me to go back to Madison?” he said in response to one father’s comment. “What the hell is that? That’s terrible! I made a decision to come here to try to make this program awesome!”

“This guy’s crazy,” another parent can be heard saying.

“I had to let it all out, because I’ve been holding onto it for 127 days, because I love this place!” Semple said.

When a parent mentioned the kids, Semple yelled, “I love every one of ’em and they know it!”

“They’re 17- and 18-year-old children and you’re acting like a child,” a woman said.

Kobza and Swensen escorted Semple out of the library.

The Sun interviewed parents, who all agreed Semple’s behavior was “out of line” and one called it “unhinged” and said he “lost it” within 30 seconds of the start of the meeting.

“There were emotions on all fronts, but I think his behavior was extremely out of line and I think some parents just want to know that everything is being taken care of — that they handled it,” said one parent who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “During the meeting they allowed his outburst to happen for way too long.”

Parents also said no district email went out to the families after the meeting to apologize or explain what happened with the athletic director.

Several sources told The Sun Semple was put on administrative leave. However, the Superintendent’s Office would not confirm it, nor comment on personnel matters.

In a text exchange, Semple politely declined to comment for this story.

The kids are heard

The day after the meeting, Kobza and Swensen met with the players to hear their concerns.

Diana Champagne, a parent who attended the meeting, said both asked the kids if they wanted Diaz, Linderback and Ray Kobza back.

“The kids were hemming and hawing, being teenagers,” Champagne recalled. “When I asked them to raise their hands if they wanted them back, they all did.”

She said the superintendent, Swensen, Interim Head Coach Jeffrey Lever and coaches Jerry Peck and Nick Chacho all went into a back room and came out about a minute later to announce the coaches would be welcomed back.

“The administration did allow the kids to be heard and took serious consideration of the kids,” Champagne said. “I was in back of the room, so there was no pressure. Their voices were heard.”

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