OAKLAND, Maine — A Messalonskee High School student who said he was struck by his football coach during practice was hit so hard that it turned his helmet backward, according to his attorney.
Wes Littlefield, who resigned his coaching position after the Sept. 19 incident at a team practice, is facing a charge of simple assault, a Class D misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
Walt McKee, who is the lawyer representing the player and his family, released a synopsis of his version of the event to the Bangor Daily News by email on Tuesday morning. The BDN is not naming the student because he may be the victim of a crime.
According to McKee, Littlefield was agitated and yelling at his players for not knowing how to properly execute a play during practice, at which point the coach struck the player’s helmet “with full force with his open palm,” the email stated.
“The hit was so hard that three of the four buckles that secured the interior of the helmet to the player’s head snapped off, and the helmet completely turned around so that the player could not even see,” McKee wrote. “It was a huge force.”
The player had told Littlefield, “This was the first time we ran the play,” before he was struck, McKee said.
Jason Jabar, Littlefield’s attorney, said that the statements by McKee aren’t consistent with what occurred at practice that day.
“The witnesses I’ve talked to have said that the helmet was not turned around,” Jabar said.
After the alleged hit, McKee said, the coaches on Littlefield’s staff who witnessed the incident did not do anything, and the coach screamed at the player and told him to run a lap.
Later in the practice session, Littlefield approached McKee’s client privately and apologized, the attorney said, and the boy’s parents phoned the coach after their son confided in them about the incident.
“When confronted, Littlefield admitted that there was ‘just a physical altercation,’ and [Littlefield] had ‘lost his cool,’” McKee wrote.
Littlefield had told the boy’s parents he reacted the way he did because “the player mouthed back to me,” according to McKee.
Jabar believes his client wasn’t trying to harm the player, and that he was doing his job as a football coach.
“It was part of what he was doing as a coach and managing his team and instilling discipline which is one of the roles of a coach,” Jabar explained. “To go another step and say let’s prosecute this coach criminally, to me, is going too far.”
Jabar said that should the case go forward, it would send the wrong message to the state’s coaching community.
“If that’s the standard, that sends a scary message to coaches,” Jabar said. “It would be contrary to the history and tradition of coaching, especially football.”
McKee, however, felt that Littlefield could’ve handled the situation in a different manner.
“This is a straight-up assault. It has no place on or off the football field, especially from a coach,” McKee said.
McKee also pointed out a similar incident involving legendary Ohio State University coach Woody Hayes, who punched a Clemson University player during the 1978 Gator Bowl. Hayes never coached after that incident, which led to his firing.
“I’m not sure what Wes Littlefield thought he was teaching that afternoon other than that it is OK to hit someone you are angry with and then pretend it didn’t happen,” the attorney said in explaining that a coach should never strike one of his players no matter the situation.
Jabar hopes that prosecutors won’t continue to pursue the case. However, if they do, an arraignment is scheduled for Nov. 20 in Waterville District Court.
Littlefield had been coaching at Messalonskee since the fall of 2003. Chapin LaBelle, who was one of Littlefield’s assistants at the start of the season, has been coaching the team on an interim basis.
Littlefield owns a gym in Oakland, Littlefield’s Gym.