Paso Robles High School football coach Rich Schimke poured syrup into a player’s belly button during an impromptu post-game locker room celebration, a video obtained by The Tribune shows. But what came next in the incident, which led to the coach being placed on paid administrative leave, is in dispute.
Heather Moscato, the mother of player Joe Moscato, said that after pouring the syrup, Schimke leaned over and licked it while it was in her son’s belly button. Bob Bartosh, Schimke’s attorney, said Schimke poured the syrup but did not make contact with the student and only pretended to lick the syrup.
Heather Moscato learned of the Oct. 14 incident on Oct. 19 when she was sent the video. A few days later, she notified the Paso Robles Police Department.
After a three-day investigation, police determined that no wrongdoing occurred. The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District is conducting a separate investigation.
The school district has reviewed the video “and is concerned about what occurred,” according to a statement released Tuesday by Superintendent Chris Williams. “Our district is continuing to consider the contents of the video as well as other available information as part of its administrative investigation and internal review.”
Williams said in his statement that the district is taking the allegations against Schimke seriously and is committed to a full and fair investigation.
Schimke declined to speak to The Tribune. “I do not have permission from the school district to talk about this matter,” he wrote via text message on Tuesday.
The incident began after a game between Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo high schools at Flamson Middle School when Joe Moscato, 17, received a bottle of syrup as part of an impromptu award given to the offensive player with the most “pancakes,” a term used to describe when an offensive lineman puts a defender on his back during a play.
“(Schimke) put a dab in (Joe Moscato’s) belly button while the whole team and coaches were in the locker room cheering it on,” Heather Moscato said of what she saw in the video. “What my son told me is that he put his tongue in the syrup.”
In the video, it is difficult to see whether Schimke actually licked Joe Moscato. Schimke kneels on the ground next to the shirtless player, and then leans down toward Moscato’s belly button, while the crowded room cheers.
“My son said he didn’t slurp it out, he didn’t put his lips around his belly button, but any of it, even the motion, even if he is trying to claim he didn’t stick his tongue out, which is untrue, based on the reactions of everyone around, if he just pretended, there wouldn’t have been such a high-volume reaction,” Heather Moscato said during a phone interview Tuesday.
Bartosh, an attorney for the Hathaway Law Firm in Ventura, said Joe Moscato asked for the syrup to be poured on him. After pouring the syrup on Moscato, Schimke then pretended to lick it off, according to Bartosh. Another source inside the locker room that night confirmed this version of events to The Tribune.
Heather Moscato issued a statement on Facebook on Saturday defending her decision to alert authorities.
“Provided the same information that I’ve been presented with, (you) would have made my same choices if it were your son lying on the floor that night,” she wrote.
“All I expected when I signed my little boy up as an 11-year-old Bearcat, that a) my son was safe b) he was being led by role models of moral behavior. Oct. 14, 2016, proved to me that neither of these were true,” she wrote in her Facebook post.
Heather Moscato said it is not only Schimke who should be held responsible.
“Of everyone in that room, not ONE coach stood up to intervene on behalf of my son,” she wrote on Facebook. “Not ONE mandated school reporter, reported it at all. Not ONE fellow parent/adult witnessing it reached out to me to let me know my son was involved in this scene.”
“I do not hold my son’s teammates accountable, as they are children who were under the influence of their highest school authority,” she continued. “Instead of posting about how devoted you are to a confused (at best) man, you should be asking your sons for the truth and doing damage control.”
Many defended Schimke on social media in the days after he was placed on paid leave, and two Paso Robles High football players contacted by The Tribune last week voiced support for the longtime coach.
“All I can say is that nothing illegal occurred and the allegations against (Schimke) are blown out of proportion,” senior wide receiver Seth Matthysse said. “My parents and I back Schimke 100 percent.”
The school district issued a statement last week saying it was notified of the incident Oct. 23, the same day the Police Department was notified.
Heather Moscato said she feels like the incident was traumatic for not only her son, but for all of the players in the locker room.
“They just witnessed a man who had their highest regard and the highest authority commit some kind of weird act on a child,” she said.
Schimke, who has been the Bearcats’ head coach since 1999, remained on leave as of Tuesday, according to the district.
Assistant coach Matt Carroll has been named as the interim head coach for the football team.