MOUNT CARMEL — Let them play.
That was the theme of the night from the more than 70 parents, football players and cheerleaders during a Mount Carmel Area School District board meeting Thursday night in which the group asked the school board to reconsider the cancellation of the 2020 football season.
On Tuesday, Superintendent Pete Cheddar announced the Red Tornadoes' football season was being canceled due to an ongoing investigation into a hazing incident involving several football players at an off-campus gathering.
The investigation into the incident, which some parents thought was closed, is still "100 percent being actively investigated," according to Mount Carmel Township Police Officer Brian Carnuccio.
Carnuccio, nor the school board would discuss the incident in public, and would not answer any questions on what actually took place.
Those who spoke at the meeting seemed to feel nothing happened that required an investigation. Not one person who addressed the board supported the move to cancel the season.
"There is no victim and no crime," parent Jeff Witkoski told the board. Witkoski, whose son Reed plays for the team, told the board he received a call from police on Oct. 6.
Jeff Witkoski said he met with police and thought the incident was over. He said he was surprised the season was shut down.
"This is what you are doing to this class to have them be known as the class that ruined Mount Carmel football."
Jeff Witkoski did not say what occurred, but Solicitor Ed Greco, who read a prepared statement, said the matter was brought to the attention of the district through a Pennsylvania ChildLine call.
"All such calls must be taken seriously and a complete and thorough investigation will be done," Greco said. "The district is determined to continue with its investigation and if necessary, may call in an outside agency to expand the investigation and conduct interviews to determine the existence, duration and commencement of any acts, which could constitute hazing."
Greco said no vote to cancel the season was taken but instead it was a collective decision made by the district, including head coach John Darrah.
"We wanted to end the season on our terms," Reed Witkoski, a senior, said.
School Director Tony Mazzatesta was the only director to speak about the situation. He told the crowd he was against ending the season.
Parent Heather Owens told the board her son was a victim of an attack in the locker room last year which caused him to have issues in school but that because no precedent was set, the season should not be canceled due to the current incident.
Cheerleading captain and senior Gia Yancoskie said she was saddened to lose her final year of cheering for football.
"Everyone should not be punished," she said.
School directors and Cheddar listened to the crowd speak but no vote was taken to reinstate the program for this season.
Carnuccio and Police Chief Brian Hollenbush stood in the back of the auditorium during the meeting and spoke with parents afterward.
Hollenbush said the case remains open.
Mount Carmel is 2-1 in games played so far this year. The Red Tornadoes, the winningest program in Pennsylvania high school football history, had the start of their season moved back after positive COVID-19 cases forced the district to go to remote learning early in the school year.
The team's final three games were canceled, including the annual Coal Bucket Game against rival Shamokin later this month. The team forfeited Saturday's game at Warrior Run before the season was canceled.
Cheddar informed the crowd the district is working with students about the seriousness of hazing and bullying.