By Krystle S. Morey
An incident involving a cover-up of Granville football players smoking marijuana on school property has led to the dismissal of Granville varsity football coach Mario Torres.
School officials said Torres was informed of the incident by a police officer on Sept. 5, three days after the incident, but failed to notify administrators – which is required by both state and local district policies.
School Superintendent Mark Bessen said administrators didn’t learn about the incident until last Tuesday – 10 days after it happened – when the district’s newly-hired resource officer, Dave Williams, notified them.
Administrators were told that four students had violated the school’s policy pertaining to drug use. Bessen said officials were told that “students violated the code.” They later found out that “other school officials (Torres) knew and did not notify us,” Bessen added.
The school board voted 9-0 at a special meeting Monday to fire Torres – as recommended by Bessen.
Torres declined to comment on the matter Tuesday morning.
Meanwhile, Torres’ brother Aaron Torres, the team’s assistant coach, submitted his resignation to school officials Tuesday morning. Volunteer coach Andrew Dirga also resigned this week.
“I will stand by my brother, as his actions are mine and I know that at no time was anything done wrong,” Aaron Torres wrote in his letter.
He added: “As I have done for over 15 years, I will stand up for what is right, what is just, and present what may be my best lesson to Granville student-athletes to date.”
On Sept. 2, Granville police officer Ethan Macura observed a suspicious vehicle in the school parking lot on Church Street beside the football field at 2:48 a.m.
The police report says the car contained four teenagers, three of whom were student athletes at Granville High School. The names were redacted from the police report because the students were juveniles under the age of 16 and they were not charged, said Police Chief Ernie Bassett.
When asked by Macura why they were parked in the school parking lot, the driver of the vehicle stated that he was, “hanging out with his friends.”
“As he exited the vehicle and (I) began interviewing him, I could smell a strong odor of marijuana coming from him and the vehicle,” Macura stated in the police report.
The driver of the vehicle told the officer that he and his friends were smoking. When Macura asked the three other youths to exit the vehicle, they turned over marijuana to the officer.
“The subjects turned over a clear plastic bag containing a green leafy substance that I know due to my training and experience as a police officer to be consistent with marijuana,” Macura wrote in the report.
Macura seized the substance and advised the quartet to leave school property immediately.
Macura notified Torres about the incident three days later, on Sept. 5. Macura, a Granville alumnus and former football player, said at that time, Torres requested a copy of the police report.
A police report was filed with the Granville police department on Sept. 12, 10 days after incident occurred – an unusual situation, Bassett said. “Usually when I come into work … the first thing I do is incident review,” Bassett said, mentioning that it could have been held up when he was absent for a few days.
That same day Williams notified school officials. There are no pending repercussions against Macura at this time.
After the incident, the three student-athletes involved played in the Granville football team’s game against Hoosic Valley on Sept. 3 and they played another game against Greenwich on Sept. 10.
The three athletes did not play in last week’s game against Hoosick Falls, a game in which Mario Torres did not coach either. Bessen declined to comment when asked about the students’ academic or athletic status.
The students involved violated a number of school policies.
The school’s policy regarding drug use states: “Persons shall be banned from entering school grounds or school-sponsored events when exhibiting behavioral, personal or physical characteristics indicative of having used or consumed alcohol or other substances.”
Violators are subject to disciplinary action that is “appropriate to the seriousness of the offense and, where applicable, to the previous disciplinary record of the student.”
Student-athletes also sign a 365-day agreement to not use drugs or alcohol. The policy states: “The use, sale and/or possession of any controlled substance(s) alcohol, tobacco products, performance enhancing drugs, illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia other (than) those prescribed by a physician is strictly prohibited.”
The policy continues: “Violations will be treated as a Level 2 Offense for the first offense.”
“Discipline of students is up to the school,” Bassett said. “What goes on over there disciplinary-wise really doesn’t have anything to do with the police department.”
Normally, possession of marijuana would lead to a violation charge by law enforcement, but the students involved were not charged. Bassett said whether or not to charge individuals is up to the officer’s discretion.
“He (Macura) had the case number assigned, so I believe that he – although he didn’t make an arrest that night – probably left it open because he still had the option of doing it later,” Bassett said.
Bassett said when there is physical evidence, like marijuana, that needs to be disposed of, it needs to be logged anyway.
The school board held a special meeting Monday that was called to order by board president Audrey Hicks at 7:03 p.m. The board immediately approved a motion to go into executive session. After nearly two and a half hours, the board emerged to reveal its decision.
Kristine A. Lanchantin, a partner at the school’s law firm in Albany, and Rachel Rissetto, director of labor relations at Capital Region BOCES, attended the meeting.
Lanchantin contributed legal advice. Rissetto was brought in by the school to conduct an investigation into the incident to determine Torres’ role in the matter. Bessen said he contacted her to perform the investigation, which began last Thursday.
This controversy comes just one month after the school board went back and forth on whether or not to reappoint Torres as head coach of the Granville team. Several replacement candidates were brought before the board by the recommendation of athletic director Eileen Troy and high school principal Camille Harrelson, but the board decided to rehire Torres at a special meeting in July.
In nine seasons and two games as head coach, Torres has a record of 30-53, with three winning seasons.
Troy and Harrelson are now charged with determining who will lead the varsity football team for the rest of this season. Troy did not return a call for comment.
“Camille (Harrelson) and Eileen Troy will be working hard to make sure that the football season moves forward for the kids,” Bessen said. “And we are hoping that the coaching staff that is still with us will coalesce together to make it a great season for the students.”
The Horde is scheduled to play Holy Trinity tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at Catholic Central High School in Troy.
It was unknown who would coach that game.
JV coach Mark Vanderzyden and Terry Wheeler, the JV coach who resigned in July, led Tuesday’s practice. The JV and varsity teams practiced together Tuesday.
Wheeler said he was asked ninth period that day by Troy to help out with practice.
“We are trying to keep it as normal as possible for the kids,” Wheeler said.
“It’s business as usual,” Vanderzyden added.
Mario Torres works as the dean of discipline and school attendance in the Hoosick Falls Central School District. He was employed in the field of law enforcement for 15 years prior to joining the district. When contacted Tuesday, Hoosick Falls Superintendent Kenneth Facin declined to comment on the matter.