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Football coaches fired in alleged hazing aftermath

From Jonathan Wald

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(CNN) -- Five football coaches at a Long Island high school lost their jobs Wednesday night in fallout from an alleged hazing ritual.

Long Island (New York)

The Mepham High School football coaches had been under pressure to resign, following reports that three varsity players sodomized three junior teammates while the team was at a training camp in western Pennsylvania in August.

Members of the district school board voted unanimously Wednesday night not to renew contracts of the five coaches.

In an emotional meeting, Norbert Billing, a Bellmore-Merrick school board trustee, announced it was "in the best interests of our students and the success of the [athletic] program that the coaches not be reappointed." Bellmore, where the school is located, is on Long Island's south shore about 30 miles from Manhattan.

Robert Kelly, a lawyer for two of the boys who say they were abused, was pleased with the board's decision.

"It's an important first step in admitting fault and recognizing that the coaches were responsible for what happened. These kids were on their watch," Kelly told CNN in a telephone interview

The three accused students -- ages 15, 16 and 17 -- face 10 criminal charges, including deviant sexual intercourse, aggravated assault, kidnapping, unlawful restraint and false imprisonment.

The suspects allegedly used broomsticks, pine cones and golf balls to sodomize the younger boys.

Thomas Caramore, superintendent of the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District had asked head coach Kevin McElroy, and junior varsity coach Art Canestro to give up their coaching jobs last week. They refused, maintaining that at the time of the alleged attacks at the training camp, the coaches slept in separate quarters from the players and had no knowledge of the incidents.

The three others whose coaching contracts were not renewed are assistant coaches Erwin Wolosky, Steve Vernet and Brian Scott.

Kelly said the coaches must take their share of the blame as they were aware of the hazing culture in Mepham High School.

"They knew this kind of hazing went on and they allowed it to go on for years," Kelly said. "For them to say they didn't know about it is a bold-faced lie."

The allegations have split the local community, and that schism was obvious at the meeting Wednesday night.

News of the coaches' dismissal was met by applause from some in the auditorium, but they received impassioned support from others.

Varsity football captain Dan Cosenza tearfully told the board "these football coaches are caring role models and should not be stripped of their coaching positions."

At one point staff members stood up in support of the coaches, prompting the mother of a Mepham High School student to storm out.

"This is a disgrace and you should all be ashamed of yourself," she said.

When allegations of the abuse surfaced, the three accused teenagers were initially suspended from Mepham High School's football team. They were later suspended from classes on September 18.

The school board subsequently voted unanimously to cancel the school's football season.

McElroy and Canestro also hold teaching positions at the school. Kelly feels they should forfeit those jobs as well.

"It's a little disingenuous to say you can't coach because you allowed this hazing to take place, but we're going to let you continue teaching," Kelly said.

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