While jubilation surrounds the Hamilton High School baseball team, which just beat second-seeded Horizon High to earn the right to play for the 6A Conference title on Tuesday, the somber gloom from a tarnished football season still hangs over the Chandler school as the end of the school year nears.
Just days ago, the Hamilton administration announced its decision to remove the head football coach, Steve Belles, from the sidelines next season while a criminal investigation continues into allegations of sexual misconduct among a handful of its football players.
The school really had no choice to continue the imposed exile of its coach since there is no way of knowing how long the investigation by the Chandler Police Department will continue. Belles was put on paid leave following the initial outbreak of the news in late March, a move the school district called “assigned to home.” He hasn’t been allowed on campus since the beginning of April.
Just because it’s Hamilton that is the subject of the story, it has been given widespread exposure, in both the local and national news. The Huskies are a powerhouse program, often ranked nationally. They won seven state championships in a nine-year span, from 2003 through 2012. Five of those belong to Belles, who took over the program in 2006.
Latest reports indicate the police may be looking into the possibility of more victims since the allegations of abuse span a 17-month period that began in September of 2015, although reports to the police weren’t made until last February.
So far, one 17-year-old has been charged as an adult and a couple of 16-year-olds were also charged, as juveniles, for crimes of kidnapping and assault.
The decision to move Dick Baniszweski, who has been serving as interim head coach, into Belles’ seat for next season at least removes the cloud of uncertainty with which players and parents have been dealing. Parents were notified in an electronic letter from Chandler Unified School District Superintendent Camille Casteel and players and coaching staff were informed of the coaching change late last week.
Chandler’s administration has been careful to point out that Belles’ reassignment to home was not a disciplinary measure and, in fact, Belles has been offered a teaching contract for next year. At this point, Belles has indicated he plans to take the teaching job while this ugly mess unwinds.
But whether he will return to the sidelines is still in question. The school is keeping its options open.