High school football coach returns after heated confrontation with player

A high school football coach had a confrontation with a player. After weeks of no comments, the coach agreed to be interviewed. It corresponded with the end of his suspension. Also in the story is a statement from the high school and the thoughts of the player’s father, a local attorney. The story ran in the Daily News-Record on Sept. 3, 2011.

HARRISONBURG, Va. — Charlie Newman will return as Turner Ashby High School’s football coach on Oct. 3, following what TA described as a voluntary three-game suspension, Principal Steve Walk said Monday.

The suspension — which took effect two weeks ago and prevented Newman from coaching at practice and games — followed a heated confrontation between Newman and senior quarterback Trent Hart after the Knights’ game against Brookville on Sept. 2.

In a telephone interview late Monday, Newman apologized for the incident.

“I’m very sorry for the situation that occurred and I’ve apologized. I want to move on for all of us,” an emotional Newman said. “I’ve been a coach for 26 years and, like I said to you before, I’m a compassionate coach and I care deeply about my players and I want the best for them and I still want the best for Trent. I have said and I have told the team, myself, as an adult, should have ended the argument. For that, I’m just really sorry.”

But Gene Hart, Trent’s father and a Harrisonburg attorney, said he wants Newman not only to apologize publicly but admit “what actually happened” after the Brookville game.

The elder Hart said Newman had to be “physically restrained from striking my son. That is what we believe happened.” Hart described it as an “overt act” that placed the younger Hart, 17, “in reasonable fear of bodily harm.”

Trent Hart was suspended for the first half of the Brookville game, his father said, for showing up late for practice on Sept. 1, the day before the game.

“My son and another player/student were late for practice,” Hart said. “When they were asked why they were late, they initially lied about why they were late. For that, my son was properly benched, according to team rules. …That is what my son did wrong.”

Newman refused to discuss the incident but Walk said in a written statement that “there was no physical contact between Coach Newman and the player.”

Walk declined to elaborate on why Newman will be allowed to return on Oct. 3 or anything else regarding the coach’s suspension.

“We believe that Coach Newman — as he himself recognizes — regrettably did not set the example for our team, school, and school division that we expect and everyone deserves,” Walk said in the statement. “We also believe that no athlete on this team did anything illegal or behaved in a manner that would justify unacceptable behavior on the part of the coaches, who as adults are supposed to set the example. Because a football team is made up of human beings, however, mistakes were made not only by Coach Newman but also by the player, as well. To their credit, both Coach Newman and the player have accepted the consequences for their actions and we expect that the errors in judgment and action by each of them will not occur again.”

Gene Hart said he was not involved in the statement, released to the media Monday afternoon, and he disputed parts of it, notably the part that said mistakes were made by the “player.”

“This statement seems to indicate that, in some way, shape or form, that my son did something wrong to justify the [incident] after the game, and that’s what the Turner Ashby administration is trying to convey,” Hart said. “…My family has little or no faith that they want to get this right and they want to protect students.”

Later, after being told that Newman had apologized in the telephone interview, Hart acknowledged it was a step in the right direction.

“We’ve always wanted to hear an apology for what happened,” Hart said. “We’re not quite there to acknowledging what actually happened. All we wanted was an acknowledgment of what actually happened. If it takes a process to get there, we’re happy to be part of that process. This wasn’t just a verbal argument.”

Hart also had kind words for Newman.

“Charlie Newman has done a lot to help a lot of kids over the years, and that’s why my call was to the athletic director and not somebody else [when the incident occurred],” said Hart, explaining why he did not call the police. “We’ve never wanted to erase 26 years. But we want acknowledgment of what happened. Until someone acknowledges that, we’re not going to move beyond on it.”

Newman and Gene Hart said they have not spoken since the confrontation, although the release — which does not specifically refer to Trent Hart — stated “they are undertaking communications and other efforts that seek to make things right for the team, the school, and for them in their coach-player relationship.”

Newman said he plans to reach out this week. He said he would have met with Trent Hart on the day after the Brookville game but was advised not to. Newman said he apologized to the team Monday. Trent Hart was in attendance.

“I do care about my players and I care about Trent. It was an argument after the game — a regrettable argument,” Newman said. “Feelings were hurt and that was unintended. I feel remorseful and sorry about it.”

Despite his displeasure with the written statement, Hart said he was pleased with how the Rockingham County Schools division was handling the situation and that he would do nothing to disrupt the Knights’ season.

“My son desires nothing more than to be on the field with his teammates, especially his senior teammates, and he wants to play football and he’s going to behave professionally,” Hart said. “He’s going to be the best he can to win the next seven games.”

Newman, who won a state championship in 2005, is in his ninth season coaching TA and will miss Friday’s Valley District opener against Harrisonburg and the Sept. 30 game against Waynesboro. His first game back will be Oct. 7 against Spotswood.

Trent Hart quarterbacked the Knights against Jefferson Forest last Friday.

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