Leading off today:
Highly successful Marlboro football coach Rich Ward is the subject of a lawsuit accusing him of physically and verbally abusing players, making a racist comment about another and instructing athletes how to injure opposing players, local media reported on Wednesday.
Ward denies the allegations of the 20-page lawsuit -- heavily laced with explicit language -- filed on Monday in a federal district court in Albany, The Times Herald-Record reported. The plaintiffs are former coach Thomas Corcoran as Al and Kerstin Votta, on behalf of their sons Justin and Ralph, and three other former players -- Dylan West, Dominic Santora and Jimmy Farrett. School board President Frank Milazzo told the Poughkeepsie Journal the district had not been served with the lawsuit and does not comment on pending litigation.
"We had hoped the school would take action sooner," said Michael Sussman, the lawyer representing the families. "This is as serious or more serious than the Rutgers abuse case. High school is different than college. ... The behavior of coach Ward is unacceptable."
Ward, Superintendent Ray Castellani and the Marlboro School District are named as defendants in the lawsuit, which seeks compensatory and punitive damages against Ward and Castellani, and to have Ward terminated as head coach.
Justin Votta was Marlboro's starting quarterback in 2012 but did not return for his senior season, during which Ryan Cary both ran and passed for more than 2,000 yards -- believed to be unprecedented in New York high school football history. Ralph Votta played on the team for two years until quitting after not being put on the field during the Oct. 11 homecoming game vs. Ellenville.
Castellani said the district conducted multiple investigations beginning last spring and deemed allegations against Ward as lacking merit.
These allegations have been investigated and are unfounded," Ward told the newspaper. "I don't keep in touch with those families and I'm not part of their circle. When I took this job, I knew I couldn't please everyone."
Ward, whose Iron Dukes have won the last three Section 9 Class B championships, is 40-5 in four seasons at Marlboro. The 1985 Marlboro graduate was previously the sprint team defensive coordinator for the U.S. Military Academy.
Among the allegations in the lawsuit (view it here):
• Ward instructed players in 2011-12 to injure New Paltz star Khariff LaBoy and Spackenkill standout Josh Riley by twisting and breaking their fingers and targeting their knees. (LaBoy and Riley were never hurt playing against Marlboro, The Times Herald-Record reported.)
• Ward referred to former Marlboro running back T.J. Henderson with a racially offensive slur in front of players.
• The coach made players he disliked run laps for as many as three hours.
• Ward grabbed Votta's face mask, jerking his neck, while screaming at him last season, an action repeated against Cary in the 2012 NYSPHSAA quarterfinals.
Past and present players have stepped up in defense of Ward.
"I support coach Ward," Cary said. "I don't think he's ever crossed the line. I didn't take that as abuse. I think that's totally over-exaggerating."
"I would play for no other coach in Section 9," said ex-linebacker Matt Tamburri, now a freshman at West Point. "Yes, coach Ward is tough, it has an Army feel to it. But he's putting us in position to win football games and at no point did he cross the line. We were never told to break anyone's legs. That is ridiculous."
Charges dropped: The charges against three Rochester high school basketball players who were arrested while waiting for a bus to take them to a scrimmage last week will be dismissed, Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley said Tuesday.
The Edison Tech players were arrested about 9 a.m. Nov. 27 when an officer saw "a group of individuals congregating on the sidewalk in front of store on East Main Street,