Nearly 30 young men in yellow and blue football jerseys sat huddled together in the Shoreham-Wading River High School auditorium Sept. 10 to support their head football coach they said had only wanted to protect their safety.
SWR’s varsity football coach Aden Smith was effectively suspended from the team Sept. 6 after an alleged “incident” in a preseason scrimmage game against Islip Aug. 30. The board held an emergency meeting discussing a personnel issue the Thursday before. In the Tuesday night meeting, nearly the entire football team sat in support of their coach, asking him to be reinstated.
Section XI’s website said Aug. 30 was a multiteam nonleague scrimmage taking place at Islip High School. Players and parents said the game was largely unsupervised by security staff or referees. Islip school district officials said in a statement it was a “brief scuffle.”
Players painted the picture that players had become violent on the field, and lacking referees, nobody stepped in to break up the unfolding violence except for Smith.
Senior Xavier Arline, team captain and quarterback, gained thunderous applause from attendees in his support of the coach.
“I played many sports over my life, and I’ve had coaches that have cared more about the sport or the result more than their players — coach Smith is not that,” he said. “That day of the scuffle, he did nothing but stand up for his players. … If a scuffle is going to happen, we rely on our coach — we expect our coach to come to the rescue. If we can’t count on him, who can we count on?”
Fellow team captain and senior Mike Casazza echoed his teammate’s words.
“Coach Smith is so invested in our team but at the same time focuses on helping every single one of his players,” he said. “In the summer he sent every kid a letter. He told them what they can improve on and gave us tips as well.”
Other team members said Smith often went above and beyond for his players, including meeting with them off the field or bringing in a person to talk with them about the dangers of drunk driving.
John Arline, Xavier’s father, related back to previous tragedies in SWR football history as to why Smith ran out onto the field that August day.
“When it’s your son lying at the bottom of a pile, who comes to your son’s rescue?” he said. “When it’s your son being hit helmet to helmet, who do we expect to protect them? … [Smith] provided safety and tried to defuse the situation.”
While details on the fight remain fuzzy, Rick Casazza, Mike’s dad, said there was an obvious lack of referee supervision. He added in a play prior to the scuffle an Islip player had pulled his son’s helmet, punched him in the face and grappled with is face mask.
“Coach Smith was the only coach to step in and verbally handle the situation,” he said.
Players and parents continued on saying Smith had been a mentor to the players, with Casazza’s father saying the coach had shared college prospects with him over the phone.
Board President Michael Lewis said the district would be receiving additional information for their investigation come Friday, including written statements from people there at the scrimmage and advice from attorneys.
“This board is not sitting back,” he said. “We’re making sure we get it right.”
Jeff McAuley, a longtime member of the football and soccer booster club, said Smith has been ostracized due to the news, but on Aug. 30 he was teaching his players to step in and protect those who need it.
“Coach Smith stepped in and protected his players at all costs.”
— Xavier Arline
“If this community has been rocked with tragedy, we have the opportunity here to prevent what I feel is a tragedy,” he said. “He came to the aid of a player. Nowhere are the other coaches being suspended, nowhere are the referees that should have been there, and he’s being ostracized.”
Though as the investigation goes on, the number of weeks left in the season depletes as well.
The suspended head coach could not be reached for comment. Interim head coach Virgil Romer instead led the team to an opening home victory last Friday against Bayport-Blue Point.
Players did not give a full description of what happened at the game from their point of view. Instead Arline made a statement on behalf of the team.
“Coach Smith stepped in and protected his players at all costs,” he said.
Smith was installed as head coach last year and he helped take SWR past division finals in the 2018 season and to the top-seeded spot in Division IV for this year.
There are about eight weeks left in the season until playoffs. The board nor Superintendent Gerard Poole could give a timeline when the investigation would be concluded.