Coach Harry Welch
The statement is plain for the polarizing former Head Coach of Canyon High School football.
“Harry Welch has been placed on administrative leave pending Santa Margarita Catholic High School Administration and Diocese of Orange review,” said Stephen Bohannon.
The reason for the paid leave is shrouded in privacy rights protections and continuing investigations.
“Not much more can be said because of the California employee privacy rights. It’s a personnel matter,” Bohannon said.
Although no one is willing to connect the dots, the Orange County Sheriffs Department is investigating an incident at Santa Margarita.
“I cannot name anyone prior to taking the case over to the Orange County District Attorney’s office. All I can say is that it involved a coach and a student/athlete,” said Jim Amormino, spokesperson for the O.C. Sheriff’s Department.
What is known is that on December 13, an anonymous email was sent to the school regarding an incident involving a coach and a student/athlete.
“The anonymous email basically stated that the coach shoved the player. The player has never turned in a complaint or filed a criminal accusation so we are trying to sort it out. There’s conflicting statements,” said Amormino.
While most schools would have already completed their football season, two days prior to the incident Welch coached his team to a victory for the Southern Section Crown. That win meant the team would continue to practice leading up to the CIF State Championship game the following Friday.
Amormino said the athlete wasn’t injured in the December 13 incident and it’s not clear if a crime had even been committed.
“It all depends on what the intent was. If you shove somebody with no intent to hurt them, it may not be a crime,” said Amormino.
Crime or not, Bohannon says the Diocese of Orange has a morals clause for coaches.
“There are certain provisions that are in place when you’re working with kids always. And at the Diocese we do adhere to those,” Bohannon said.
Gail Pinsker, Community Liaison Officer for the William S. Hart Union School District which employed Welch at Canyon, could not address whether the coach had faced any allegations of pushing or shoving athletes.
“I am unable to answer this question due to it relating to a personnel matter that would be confidential,” said Pinsker.
Without an investigative arm at the Diocese, Bohannon says they reach out to reliable professionals who conduct investigations.
“There’s a fact gathering first, and then a review of the facts,” said Bohannon.
Sean Coen and Robert Hendricks
The Diocese of Orange would seem to take a long time to conduct investigations. On Dec. 30, news broke that two coaches under Welch, Sean Coen and Robert Hendricks, were terminated from the school because they’d plead guilty to marijuana possession charges. Both Coen and Hendricks are former players under Welch at Canyon High School.
However, the men were charged with possession of marijuana and faced three felony drug counts back in 2010. In September of 2011 they pled guilty to lesser misdemeanor counts despite having a pot farm in their San Juan Capistrano home.
What did Welch know and when did he know it? That’s under long investigation, as well.
“As I said it’s under review, so that determination is still kind of out there,” said Bohannon.
Despite the charges, both Coen and Hendricks were allowed to continue coaching through the season. It wasn’t until December 12, following the Southern Section Championship, that the school began investigating Coen and Hendricks.
The following day is when the shoving incident is alleged to have taken place.
Bohannon was asked if the administrative leave for Welch was related to the Coen and Hendricks dismissals.
“Both are being looked into and there’s not much I can say about it. But I will say the two are not related,” said Bohannon.
The O.C. Sheriffs investigation is moving along slowly as well.
“We did have the Christmas holiday, so time lapsed because of the holiday and again we’re working through some conflicting statements by parties involved and just trying to sort out truth from fiction and see what we got,” said Amormino.
Amormino hopes to bring the case to the Orange County District Attorney’s office this week.
“I still think there’s a reason to investigate it, and present it to the district attorney and see if they have the elements of a crime,” Amormino said.