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Indian River County schools
Counsel rests case in Sebastian River baseball coach’s appeal

By Laurel Pfahler (Contact) INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Counsel for the Indian River County School Board rested its case Thursday morning in an administrative hearing in which former Sebastian River baseball coach George Young is appealing a three-day unpaid suspension from teaching.

Young lost his coaching job and served the suspension almost a year ago as a result of an alleged hazing incident involving members of the Sharks baseball team while staying in a hotel during a spring break tournament in March of 2008.

The 14-year coach was disciplined after Indian River School District investigators concluded three Sebastian River baseball players held down a teammate and placed a plastic 2-liter bottle at or near a player’s rectum.

Before resting, attorney Wayne Helsby, of Allen, Norton & Blue, P.A., in Winter Park, called four more witnesses to the stand Thursday morning on behalf of the school district, including Sebastian River Principal Peggy Jones, Superintendent Harry La Cava, Assistant Principal Billy Wilson and District Executive Director of Human Resources Kevin Browning.

Jones was the district’s first witness of Day 2 in the hearing and detailed the order of events regarding the school’s investigation. She also provided reason for her decision to remove him from his coaching duties, citing that he waited a week after hearing an incident might have occurred and that after Young heard about the possibility of a bottle being involved, he did not attempt to contact her.

“When he learned of the bottle, he should have come to me,” Jones said.

La Cava said he was not a part of the investigation process but received periodic updates and used the investigation report for the basis of his decision to recommend to the board a suspension of Young.

Wilensky asked if La Cava remembered the information he provided La Cava regarding what the attorney called misquoted information in witness statement reports. He said Young was sourced to a quote that the victim’s mother said in reference to the victim’s parents and Young’s original decision not to discuss the bottle when reporting the incident.

La Cava said he took the information into consideration, though Wilensky pointed out that he still used pieces of that incorrect information in his agenda notes prior to Young’s appeal to the school board.

“There was knowledge of a bottle, and he didn’t say anything,” La Cava said.

Young’s counsel, Mark Wilensky of Dubiner & Wilensky, P.A., in West Palm Beach, called two witnesses out of turn, with the court’s approval, prior to the district’s final witnesses because of concerns the witnesses would be unavailable after Thursday morning.

Parent Thomas Whittington Jr. and his son, Thomas Whittington III, a member of the baseball team, testified that Young called a meeting the morning following the incident to find out what happened, but no players came forward. Thomas Whittington III, a senior this year, also said Young addressed t he team prior to leaving for the tournament and told the players they “need to represent the high school in a good, disciplined manner.”

Following a lunch break, Wilensky called parent Jim Mueller, a parent chaperon on the trip, to the stand, and he corroborated what the Whittington’s both said. He also said he heard of some possible “wrestling” the night of the incident and told Young he would check it out, but everything was quiet.

Wilensky has several more witnesses to call, but both counsel expect the hearing to conclude by noon Friday.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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