A Maryland private high school announced the retirement of its longtime football coach Thursday after a player said the coach tried to choke him while kneeling on his chest in a recorded interaction that the student said began as horseplay.
A cellphone video shot by another student and verified by the Associated Press shows coach John Ricca pulling 17-year-old Errance Meeks Jr. over a table and onto a gymnasium floor and then struggling on top of him for about 15 seconds during a physical education class Feb. 4. The table obscures the view, but Meeks' khaki-clad legs can be seen kicking until he manages to stand up with Ricca clinging to his necktie. They struggle against a wall for about 10 more seconds until a young woman steps between them.
Thomas Powell, president of Saint John's Catholic Prep in Buckeystown, just outside Frederick, said the 32-second clip doesn't show events before and after the interaction that he watched on school surveillance video as part of a thorough investigation. Powell wouldn't disclose his findings, citing confidentiality concerns.
"Let me just suggest there's a little bit more. There are always lots of sides to everything," he said.
Powell said he has apologized to Meeks' parents "for any activity that was not up to the standards of a private school."
Ricca, who coached 10 seasons at the school, couldn't be reached immediately for comment. Calls to his listed home number were eventually answered by a man saying it was a Pizza Hut.
Meeks, a senior co-captain of last season's 10-1-1 Vikings team, said in a telephone interview that the episode began when he playfully rubbed Ricca's shoulders from behind as the coach sat in a chair. He said Ricca stood up with Meeks clinging to his back until the coach backed up into some equipment, forcing Meeks to drop off. He said Ricca returned to his chair but Meeks approached again, laughing and feigning a lunge. Meeks said Ricca then swung at him and missed twice before grabbing his shirt and yanking him across the table. That's where the video starts. Both appear to raise their arms at the same time but Meeks said he didn't swing at the coach.
He said he was surprised and angered by Ricca's response to his "horsing around."
"We got along during football season. We didn't have any problems," Meeks said.
His father, Errance Meeks Sr., worked under Ricca as an assistant coach for the past three seasons. He said he's pursuing an assault charge against him.
Until this incident, "I would have thought it was a cordial professional relationship," the elder Meeks said.
He said he has withdrawn his son from Saint John's and is enrolling him in a public school.
Ricca played for the now-defunct World Football League and was an assistant coach for several years at Catholic University. His father Jim Ricca played for the NFL's Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles.