New Canaan Youth Football's (NCYF) coaches and leadership came under recent fire after a trophy burning incident following the loss of an eighth-grade team last month.
Coaches Rod Fox, Jay Pirrone and David Jahn reportedly took many of the players out to Irwin Park Nov. 19 after an end-of-the-season party to burn their third place trophies. According to police, a parent was concerned with the message being sent to kids after hearing about the incident.
"We received an anonymous letter from a concerned parent," Sgt. Carol Ogrinc of the New Canaan Police Department. "I don't know exactly what the letter said but the gist of it was about burning trophies and how it wasn't healthy for the kids. I think it even said that the kids were forced to burn the trophies which wasn't the case because there were a few kids that didn't participate and chose to keep their trophies."
Police sent officers to Irwin Park Nov. 30 and they observed "a very small burn spot" in the area of the incident. The trophies had been removed by the coaches.
"Talking to the three coaches, they all said it was something that they discussed with the team and used it more as a motivational thing to put behind them and have a better season next year. At no time were any of kids in danger from fire," Orgrinc said. "I understand that they did use gasoline or an accelerant in a small amount. He did have a fire extinguisher nearby and after a few minutes of a very small flame, according to the coaches, they extinguished the fire and came at a later time to clean it up."
Police said there were no criminal charges pending and that the league is doing its own investigation.
"As one of the head coaches, I take full responsibility for the actions," former coach and NCYF president Rod Fox. "Our point was to flush away the disappointment of the team's last game and move on and not dwell on it any further. It was bad judgment. We apologized to the players and parents and made sure that the message was clear for everyone. This was an exceptional group of kids who were very successful. It is unfortunate that this event has clouded the great accomplishments of these young men."
NCYF President Ted Dumbauld has said the three coaches have resigned and the league is looking into improving some of their policies in light of the incident. The NCYF Board of Directors also sent out a letter addressing the situation.
"The parents uniformly were disappointed and upset at this exercise and thought it demonstrated poor sportsmanship and an inconsistent message after the players had all been congratulated for their hard work and play," the letter stated. "Likewise, carrying out this activity in a town park showed a lack of judgment when the town specifically rules out even small fires. The coaches involved have resigned from the NCYF board, the NCYF board has accepted their resignations and the coaches have been suspended from any further involvement with the program or any individual team."
The suspended coaches themselves also sent an e-mail to the parents and kids apologizing for the burning.
"In football, there is a tradition of `burning the shoe' as a means of forgetting any disappointment in the season and instead focusing on the positive and looking forward to next season," the email read. "Unfortunately, we as coaches made a mistake in our attempt to carry out this tradition. While our message was intended to be positive, it was a mistake to carry it out in this way and for that we would like to apologize. This lack of judgment on our part should in no way tarnish all of the hard work, sportsmanship and success that you accomplished this season and in previous seasons."
The letter from the board made it clear they did not condone this kind of behavior and that any future violations will be dealt with similarly and swiftly. At the same time, the board said tis was an isolated incident and encouraged parents to not be discouraged about the organization as a whole.
"No one, however, should question the overwhelmingly positive experience that the young men in this program experience every year, or the selfless dedication of the men and women, including these coaches, who coach and manage these teams," the directors said. "Each parent puts in hundreds upon hundreds of hours with one set of goals in mind every day -- help these young men enjoy this great game, teach them the fundamentals so they can play safely at each stage of their experience and remind them regularly of the responsibilities they have to their teammates, to New Canaan, to the game itself and most importantly to themselves."