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Conestoga High football team focuses on the game with a new coaching staff

By Michaelle Bond, 08/22/16, 11:00AM EDT


Coach Weeks

Marquis Weeks, a retired NFL running back, calls his new job as the head football coach at Conestoga High School a "dream come true."

But allegations of hazing and assault that rocked his alma mater last year - and ultimately led to his hiring - have been an ongoing nightmare for one of the nation's most highly ranked school districts.

His predecessor resigned in March, and the entire coaching staff was ousted, after the Chester County district attorney charged three senior football players with assaulting a 14-year-old freshman player in the locker room. The boy told police his teammates assaulted him with a broom handle. The allegations also led to a Tredyffrin/Easttown School District investigation that found players had hazed teammates for years, including putting genitals on younger players' heads, prosecutors said.

On a steamy afternoon last week during a break between practices, Weeks said the team is "looking to the future." However, he acknowledged the specter of the alleged incidents linger.

He had talked briefly to his players about the hazing, telling them, "It happened. You guys learned from it."

In the interview, he echoed a familiar sentiment about the alleged assault: "The facts are not all the way out."

Prosecutors expect a conference with a judge within the first weeks of school. Lawyers for the accused said they are continuing to gather evidence, as some residents of the district continue to question whether the assault, which prosecutors said happened in October, occurred.

In part, these questions stem from the fact that the boy's father did not report the assault until February, shortly after the school district had determined the family no longer lived in the district and the father owed more than $13,000 in tuition reimbursements.

The residency dispute started after the boy was removed from the high school for distributing sexually explicit images of a female middle school classmate. The school district agreed to pay for the boy to attend Buxmont Academy, a school for troubled and at-risk youth, for the rest of the school year as long as he continued to live within the district, where he had resided since kindergarten, according to court documents.

A week after the tuition agreement took effect, school officials hired a private investigator, who saw the boy's father drive his son between a home in Chester, Delaware County, and a bus stop in the district on several occasions. Kenneth Roos, the district's solicitor, said hiring an investigator was standard practice among school districts "when there's reasonable belief a student doesn't live in the district."

"It's never done because of who the student is or anything relating to conduct," he said.

After the boy's great-grandmother kicked him out of her house after the sexting charges surfaced, he stayed with family in Chester, which school officials argued became his new home.

But earlier this month Chester County Judge Jeffrey Sommer ruled that the stay in Chester was only temporary and that he was a Tredyffrin/Easttown School District resident.

In his Aug. 5 decision, Sommer said during the residency dispute, the boy's father "was denied the benefit of the doubt in each and every instance and, further, was denied the benefit of uncontroverted facts in his favor."

The judge also said the relationship between the boy and the school district "has been strained due to a complex history of behavior-related issues."

Thomas H. Ramsay, a lawyer representing the boy, said his client pleaded guilty in June to one count each of stalking, harassment and transmission of sexually explicit images by a minor - all misdemeanors - and is on probation.

"Now it is time for these three Conestoga High School football players that are pending a trial to accept responsibility for their behavior in the locker room that day," Ramsay said.

District residents who expressed doubts that the assault occurred cite a cellphone video that one of the boy's teammates secretly recorded while riding on a train. It depicts the teammate asking the boy about the alleged assault. The video, which prosecutors say they gave to the defense lawyers, shows the boy giving contradictory statements, saying both that the assault did happen and that he told his father the allegations were not true.

Officials from the Chester County District Attorney's Office said the video shows a "scared kid" confronted by a student trying to make him feel guilty.

"It shows exactly what we run into all the time," District Attorney Thomas Hogan said, "which is after a case has been filed, there will be somebody who will confront somebody on the street and get them to deny what happened."

He reiterated that several students gave recorded statements to police that the assault occurred.

Ramsay, the boy's lawyer, cited his experience interviewing scores of witnesses as a criminal defense lawyer for more than 30 years and as a former deputy district attorney. "His version of the events as he related them to me had the ring of truth," he said.

Vincent DiFabio, lawyer for one of the accused, said the video is "one piece of evidence," along with the timeline of events surrounding the boy, "that will be used to question this young man's credibility and the credibility of the case."

Meanwhile, while the case proceeds the Pioneers are preparing for a 2016 season in which they hope attention will be focused on the field.

In addition to hiring an entire new football coaching staff, the school has implemented new anti-hazing policies.

Controversies aside, Weeks, 35, a former assistant football coach at Valley Forge Military College, is excited about his opportunity to coach.

"Jobs like this," he said, "don't really come up too often."