Disturbing allegations against coach divide tiny California town

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

According to a new court claim in Northern California, a high school football player suffered a troubling series of injuries after one of the more disturbing high school sports incidents in the history of the Golden State.

East Nicolaus football
East Nicolaus football

As reported by the Sacramento Bee and a handful of other area sources, East Nicolaus (Calif.) High football coach Mark Varnum has been placed on administrative leave after allegedly organizing and watching over the punishment of junior football player Justin Williams, who had missed a practice. According to Williams' mother and the legal team that the family has hired, Williams suffered from a concussion, dehydration and a partially collapsed lung.

More disturbing still are the circumstances that led to Williams' injuries. According to court papers filed by the family, Williams was brought into Varnum's office in late August after he missed a team practice. After the coach gave him a stern lecture, Williams was ordered to head out to the field and run and perform a series of drills.

If the punishment had stopped there, it's unlikely anything more would have come from the incident. Instead, that was just the beginning of Williams' nightmare. The Bee reported that Williams' family is claiming Varnum next told the teen to stand on the goal line while 11 teammates kicked the ball to him and then raced downfield to tackle him as physically as possible.

The results, as one might imagine, were not pretty. The 11-on-1 punishment, combined with Varnum allegedly withholding water from the teen, led Williams to vomit repeatedly. After the coach reportedly exhorted the 11 players on the kicking team to be more physical with Williams -- Varnum allegedly told the kicking team to "stop pussyfooting around" and to "lay his ass out" -- he was left in such a deplorable physical state, including dehydration, that he had to be hospitalized, where his additional ailments were diagnosed.

While the Sutter County District Attorney's Office has rejected filing public charges against the coach, the coach was placed on administrative leave shortly after the allegations against him were revealed in September, forcing him to miss a majority of his team's 2011 season.

Perhaps more significantly, the discipline against Varnum came just days after the the school board verbally rejected a claim by Williams' mother, Marcie Mackay.

If Williams' claims are true, there is no possible defense for Varnum's actions. If the allegations are false, a teen's family is spreading malicious rumors about a high school football coach that threaten to ruin his career, if not his life.

Either way, the situation has devolved into an unseemly dispute that is tearing at the fabric of a small California town and an even smaller school of just 320 students, a community where football has traditionally helped bring everyone together, not tear them apart.

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