WHITEHALL -- The Whitehall community is looking for answers about why football coach Justin Culligan was fired, but may not get any at a special Board of Education meeting on Thursday.
The board will meet at 6 p.m. in the high school auditorium. The agenda hadn’t been released as of late Wednesday afternoon.
School officials have declined to give a reason for the termination, which came after a two-hour executive session on Monday night. The decision came on the heels of a brawl that broke out between Whitehall and Rensselaer players at Saturday’s game in Whitehall.
“It’s a personnel issue,” said Superintendent Elizabeth Legault on Wednesday.
The school board is within its rights not to give a reason, according to Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government.
If the board had given the coach a written letter stating the reason for his termination, Freeman said that might be accessible under the Freedom of Information Law.
“If they simply said, ‘You’re fired,’ there would no obligation to verbally disclose the reason,” he said.
Freeman added that other than the minutes of the board action, the district would not be required to prepare a record stating the reason.
Culligan’s dismissal comes after Saturday’s game against Rensselaer, which was stopped in the third quarter at the request of Whitehall Athletic Director Keith Redmond who believed that the situation was getting out control. A brawl that nearly cleared the benches broke out in the second quarter after Whitehall quarterback Justin Hoagland was taken out of bounds by Rensselaer players. Both Rensselaer and Whitehall players got involved in the melee, shouting, pushing and shoving as coaches attempted to pull players away from each other.
Both teams were penalized and an assistant Rensselaer coach was ejected. There also have been allegations of racial slurs coming from the Whitehall fans. The Whitehall school district is 97 percent white and 1 percent black compared with Rensselaer being 73 percent white and 13 percent black, according to state Education Department 2012-2013 data.
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Rensselaer coach Joel Preston can be seen on a video yelling at a referee. Preston claimed that the official did not throw a Whitehall assistant coach out of the game for allegedly having improper contact with a Rensselaer player during the melee.
State Police are continuing to investigate the matter, but no charges have been filed.
Legault spoke with the players on Tuesday to congratulate them on being Class D regular season champions. The team is getting ready for its crossover game on Saturday against Holy Trinity at Catholic Central in Troy. Redmond is overseeing the program, with the assistant coaches running the practices.
Community members are furious over the board’s decision.
More than 100 people attended a rally on Tuesday evening. A petition, seeking Culligan’s reinstatement, with more than 340 signatures was being circulated.
Resident Sarah Wells has started an online petition on www.change.org titled “Bring back Coach Culligan,” which had 50 signatures as of mid-afternoon on Wednesday.
Quarterback Justin Hoagland said on Facebook that “We would like our 100th year of football to be known as a year we won the Section II, Class D league title headed by Justin Culligan and the rest of our great staff because the team has earned the right to be called champions. Not a season shrouded by politics and accusations.”
The school started playing football in 1912. After not fielding a team from 1914 to 1916, it has played every year since 1917.
Section II officials are also evaluating the situation. An official from Section II did not return Post-Star messages left Wednesday for comment.