The Whitehall school board voted 6-2 on Thursday night against reinstating football coach Justin Culligan, who was fired on Monday in the wake of a brawl-filled game against Rensselaer at Whitehall on Saturday.
In an emotionally charged one-hour special session, players and people from the community expressed overwhelming support for Culligan, who has been teaching at the high school since 2004 and serving as head coach of the football team since 2009.
That, and two rallies for Culligan during the week, weren’t enough to convince the board to overturn the Monday session.
Athletic director Keith Redmond has been overseeing the football team, and the assistant coaches have been conducting practice.
The Railroaders, who clinched the Class D League championship when Saturday’s game was called with six minutes left in the third quarter, will play Holy Trinity at Catholic Central tonight before beginning the Section II playoffs against Canajoharie next weekend.
“I will tell you, the football kids are pretty resilient, and they’ll rebound and certainly give their best on Friday night,” Redmond said, “but they’re devastated.”
Saturday’s game against Rensselaer was chippy early and nearly escalated into a bench-clearing brawl when Whitehall took offense to a hit that sent senior quarterback Justin Hoagland out of bounds.
The game was called with six minutes left in the third quarter and Whitehall leading, 28-6, when another near-brawl occured, leading to a Railroaders player being ejected.
Redmond recommended to the referees that the game be called, and they did so for the sake of safety, which prevented Whitehall from drawing a forfeit.
State police are still investigating a claim by Rensselaer head coach Joel Preston that a Whitehall coach made contact with a Rensselaer player during the second melee.
“He handled it like any other coach would during the scuffle — appropriately,” Redmond said of Culligan. “He was trying to take care of the chaos.”
The board fired Culligan during a regularly scheduled meeting on Monday night.
On Thursday, an impassioned plea from the public, including Hoagland and senior guard Drew Martindale, turned into an angry reaction after the board vote.
“They both said to the crowd that they wanted their coach back and that he was the reason they were where they were,” Redmond said. “One thing about these small-town communities like Whitehall, the community comes together.”
Culligan did not return a call for comment.
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Categories: High School Sports