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Canton McKinley Head Football Coach And 6 Assistant Coaches Fired

A lawyer for the family of the 17-year-old player involved in the incident said Head Coach Marcus Wattley knew the student avoided pork due to his religious beliefs but tried to force him to eat a pepperoni pizza as punishment for missing a voluntary practice. [Canton City School District]
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Canton McKinley High School Head Football Coach Marcus Wattley and six assistant coaches have been fired after trying to force a player to eat pork against his religious beliefs.

The Canton City School Board held a special meeting Thursday evening to discuss the incident that occurred during a non-mandatory May 24 practice.

“In a 5-0 vote, the board determined that Head Football Coach Marcus Wattley, along with six assistant coaches, Cade Brodie, Joshua Grimsley, Romero Harris, Frank McLeod, Zachary Sweat, and Tyler Thatcher, will no longer be coaches at Canton McKinley High School or anywhere else in the district. No contracts will be renewed,” a district statement read.

According to an attorney for the player's family, the 17-year-old missed a voluntary weight training practice on May 20 because he wanted to rest an injured shoulder. When he showed up to a weight training session four days later, Wattley punished the player by making him eat a pepperoni pizza.

The student protested numerous times that he can’t eat pork or pork residue because of his Hebrew Israelite faith.

“He [the head coach] said you have to eat it or the consequences is that the teammates would have to do further drills. And in addition to that, there's a question of whether you're going to stay on the team,” Edward Gilbert, the family's attorney said.

Canton schools suspended Wattley and seven assistant coaches, while the district conducted an investigation and reported the incident to police.

Superintendent Jeff Talbert said the investigation found the coaches engaged in actions that constituted “inappropriate, demeaning, and divisive behavior in a misguided attempt to instill discipline in the student-athletes.”

“This behavior will not be tolerated,” Talbert added. “The Canton City School District holds our coaching and general staff to the highest professional and ethical standards. Anything short of these standards is unacceptable and will not be permitted.”

Following the announcement of the decision to fire the coaches on Thursday night, board President John Rinaldi named Athletic Director Antonio Hall as Canton McKinley’s new interim head football coach.

“The football program, which has a long and proud history, is an important part of our school culture and our community,” Rinaldi said. “We are moving forward, despite this difficult circumstance, and are pleased to announce this new leadership for the football program.”

Earlier this week, the family said it intends to sue the district for violating the teen’s First Amendment rights.

Jenny Hamel is the host of the “Sound of Ideas.”