Texas hearing calls HS coaches' conduct into question over ref incident

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

ROUND ROCK, Texas -- The governing body for Texas high school sports questioned Wednesday whether the coaches of two football players accused of intentionally ramming a referee should have done more to calm emotions in a tense game.

The University Interscholastic League's executive committee heard from local officials on their investigation into the incident involving John Jay High School in San Antonio. The organization is investigating several allegations, including that the hit was prompted by something an assistant coach said and was preceded by racial slurs from the targeted umpire.

The incident was caught on video and sparked national attention and reaction. Marble Falls beat John Jay in Friday's game 15-9.

Two John Jay High School players -- identified as sophomore Victor Rojas and senior Mike Moreno by the San Antonio Express-News -- and assistant coach Mack Breed have been suspended by the Northside Independent School District pending the investigation.

"This has been an embarrassment for the school, the UIL and the state of Texas," committee member James Colbert of Houston said.

Dallas committee member Gil Garza, who used to work in San Antonio schools, noted reported tensions in the game between John Jay and Marble Falls high schools, including punches thrown, late hits and ejections before the John Jay players rammed umpire Robert Watts.

"The only thing our kids really have is our coaches. That's where the leadership starts," Garza told Northside officials, calling the out-of-control atmosphere "a time bomb waiting to happen. And it did."

Garza also questioned whether the game officials could have done more to control the game.

Officials with Northside and the Texas Association of Sports Officials said they are still investigating the incident.

Brian Woods, Northside schools superintendent, said he wasn't aware of previous concerns about a culture of unsportsmanlike conduct at Jay.

"We don't have any reason to believe the actions of those two young men are representative of that program or the student body of that school," Woods said.

Woods said concerns about sportsmanship could be "applied both ways." Marble Falls school officials attended the meeting but declined an offer to testify.

The John Jay High School players, coaches and Watts did not attend the meeting. Watts' attorney, Alan Goldberger of New Jersey, has denied Watts made racial remarks. Watts has been a game official for 14 years and was recently nominated for president of the Austin chapter of the Texas Association of Sports Officials.

Watts was not working with his regular crew at the game and was a fill-in for another official who couldn't make it, said Michael Fitch, executive director of the officials association. Fitch said he's still waiting for a complete report on the game from the crew.

The UIL said any state disciplinary action against the players or school won't come before its next meeting Sept. 23.

A source told ESPN's Pedro Gomez that the students' chances of being reinstated at John Jay High School are "highly unlikely." Other possible options for the students include enrolling at an alternative school -- where only students who have faced disciplinary sanctions attend -- or possible expulsion, in which case they would not be allowed to enroll at any public school in the state of Texas.

The case has prompted a criminal investigation in Marble Falls, where the game was played (about 90 miles north of San Antonio).

Video from the game showed the referee watching a play, and his head snapping back when he is leveled from behind and another player then dives on top of him. Northside school district officials have said that during the game, the suspended players "were feeling lots of frustration by what they perceived to be missed or wrong calls by the refs." The players also alleged the referee directed racial slurs at them.

The students allege that Breed, 29, said "that guy needs to pay for cheating us" or words to that effect, according to the district.

Information from ESPN's Pedro Gomez, Michael C. Wright and the Associated Press was used in this report.

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