Follow Up: NT Boys Soccer
In the end, all the Toth family really wanted was an “I’m sorry.”
This wasn’t about playing time or pointing fingers of blame. It was certainly never about wanting to be in the public eye. It was just about a mom and dad looking out for their child. Wanting answers – as any good parent would.
It appears as if those answers have been found.
As first reported by WNY Athletics on Thursday, Sept. 22nd, accusations were made that some members of the North Tonawanda boys’ varsity soccer team had been bullying teammate Kyle Toth. Actions against Toth included having two of his personal soccer balls damaged; one receiving puncture marks and being stuffed in a port-o-potty near the varsity soccer field.
As we continued to dig through information, we found out that several members of the team did in fact express support for Kyle leading up to Thursday’s events. Steve Toth said his son received some snapchat messages where kids expressed how sorry they were for what Kyle was going through. Though some players did try to take action previously, their efforts were unsuccessful.
At least one older player who likely would have stepped in to stop the port-a-potty incident reportedly left practice, as did Head Coach Joe Wilkie, before the incident had taken place.
North Tonawanda Superintendent Greg Woytila said “Kids in their hearts know the right thing to do is to step in, but it’s often easier said than done. It’s best to report it and let the administration take care of it but it’s very hard for kids because then they become the person who has blown in their teammates. They do have team captains. If they don’t feel confident right away coming to an adult they can go to the captains and the captains, we would expect, would do the right thing and report it to the coach and the athletic director.”
The situation gained a great deal of attention as the photo of Kyle’s mother, Jeannette Toth, protesting the lack of answers with a peaceful sit-in on the soccer field, prior to the team’s game against Grand Island, circulated on social media.
Alger and NT Superintendent Greg Woytila both graciously agreed to an interview with WNY Athletics on Friday evening in an effort to explain the district’s point of view on the matter.
“Any incident of bullying that we hear of we take very seriously,” Woytila said at halftime during North Tonawanda’s football game against Grand Island. “In this case I think that maybe the people involved didn’t think that we were acting fast enough. In this case it took us a little bit longer. We got to the bottom of it and we’re happy that it’s resolved.”
Earlier in the day, North Tonawanda’s Athletic Director, Jeff Alger, met with each member of the team and through this process received a confession from the player who bullied Toth.
WNY Athletics also caught up with Kyle Toth’s dad, Steve Toth, later in the evening to get his input on the process.
According to Steve Toth, his son’s soccer ball was destroyed and found in the port-o-potty on Sept. 15th. The following day, his wife spoke with Coach Wilkie and showed him the pictures of the damaged soccer ball. Toth said Wilkie took their concerns seriously and began the process to get to the bottom of the matter. Which, the Toths assumed, would include contacting Mr. Alger. But, based on Woytila’s next statement that may not have actually happened.
“They did not directly tell myself or Mr. Alger,” Woytila said. “I believe they were in contact with the coach.”
Steve Toth said he and Jeannette did try to speak with Alger personally at school the previous Monday but when they arrived, Alger’s office door was locked. A school employee tried to help the Toths locate Alger, but it is believed that he had already departed the school.
Toth said he asked Wilkie numerous times if he had reached out to Alger and Wilkie assured Toth that he had been contacted about the matter. Prior to the Sept. 22nd Grand Island game, Steve Toth had again asked Coach Wilkie if Alger was aware of the situation and that he wanted to speak with him, to which Wilkie replied that a meeting had been had. No solid evidence was found and that they needed to move on.
That was the just about the breaking point for the Toths. “No it’s not over. Now it’s on,” Steve Toth told Wilkie.
Jeannette Toth started to head for the field with her lawn chair and said “That’s it. It needs to be done. I’m sitting on the field until someone talks to me.”
Then, according to Mr. Toth, Wilkie told Mrs. Toth “Don’t ruin my program.” By then the normally easy going father had about all he could take.
“I said ‘excuse me? Don’t ruin your program? I’ll admit to it. I said I don’t give a (beep) damn about your program!'” Toth said. “‘I gotta worry about my son, because no one will, if I don’t as a father.'”
While some are viewing Jeannette as a crazy soccer mom, Steve classified his wife as a quiet, almost boring type of person. An accounting professor at a local college, Jeannette Toth doesn’t drink. She doesn’t seek attention.
To make a dramatic stand for the sake of show simply is not who Jeannette Toth is. Her sit in, in Jeannette’s eyes, was the last resort to get answers.
Considering the Toths have refused repeated requests for interviews from local T.V. stations, it backs the family’s claims that they aren’t looking for attention. They only wanted answers and an apology.
WNY Athletics reporter Francis Boeck, who filed the first story, was at the NT/Grand Island soccer game the day of Mrs. Toth’s protest. He was told Mr. Woytila would be arriving at the school, but Woytila was unable to make it to North Tonawanda High School due to a previously scheduled appearance at a district open house.
Alger, who was unaware that a member of the media wanted an interview, spoke with the players before departing the field. He left immediately because he had a 90-minute drive home ahead of him. When Boeck approached Coach Wilkie for a quote, the coach was not able to comment on the matter due to the ongoing investigation by Mr. Alger.
But even in the search for answers this story hits another bumpy stretch of road. While the Toths appreciated the fact that Alger tried to get to the bottom of the matter as quickly and effectively as possible, Steve Toth felt that Alger, who he praised as being a fine athletic director and person, came down too hard on the boys in his talk after the Grand Island game and that he expected Alger to speak with himself and Kyle to collect as much information as possible on the topic before addressing the team.
“Arm yourself with the whole story. Arm yourself with the whole situation,” Steve Toth said. “Obviously he’s aware of the situation because Wilkie must have told him. I repeated numerous times that Mr. Alger needs to call me. I would have thought and expected that he would approach me and say ‘Ok Mr. Toth, before I approach this team, tell me, what’s the low down?'”
Unfortunately it appears that somewhere along the way there was a costly breakdown of communication that contributed to this situation.
On Friday, Alger stressed that he is always trying to educate his coaches on the most effective ways of handling bullying.
“When I had my coaches meeting I spoke to them about communication,” Alger said. “I also said that it’s very important that if you do know of a child being bullied or harassed in anyway that you do contact me directly. But in this situation I didn’t know. And if you don’t know, you can’t act on it. We found out and we acted quickly on it.”
Feeling that they are moving in the right direction on this matter, Alger said that he planned to once again send out emails to all of his coaches outlining steps to take if they suspect or become aware of bullying in any capacity. The administration will immediately take action to stop it. “We’ll do our due diligence making sure they pay attention to everything that’s going on,” Alger added.
Woytila and Alger ask that kids, parents and coaches remain vigilant of potential bullying issues. They want to make it clear that bullying will not be tolerated. If you feel an issue has taken place, never hesitate to reach out to them for help.
Steve Toth doesn’t want this young man in question, or any of the other players on the team, to be forever labeled as bad kids. He doesn’t think they are. He thinks this was just a case of a teenage boy making a mistake. It happens.
“I’ve made mistakes. You’ve made mistakes. They’re gonna make mistakes,” Toth said. “It was obviously someone trying to be funny, trying to look for acceptance, to fit in. At 16 years old, it’s a very difficult age. All I wanted (from the aggressor) was an ‘I’m sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking. Please forgive me and I’ll replace your ball.’ Let’s shake hands. Let’s not dwell on this. However, I could not get a response from anybody. All Wilkie would do is shrug his shoulders, throw his hands up in the air and say ‘ya gotta do what ya gotta do.’ That’s not cool.”
The Toths understand how other parents are frustrated and leaping to the defense of the other boys on the team. Ultimately everyone is doing what they feel is best to protect their kids.
“They have a valid point in their concerns. They really do,” Toth said.
Not only wanting to protect their son, the Toths are so passionate about this topic because they don’t want to see other kids go through it. But if it does come up again, he hopes the district can act more efficiently.
Woytila and Alger absolutely understand the frustration the Toths are feeling. When your kid signs up for a school sport you should feel secure that they are safe. Making friends, doing something constructive and avoiding the trouble that comes with hanging out in the streets.
Woytila and Alger said the safety of student-athletes is a top priority at NT and they are examining ways to make their programs safer in the future.
“New York State has a program for captains,” Alger said. “They do a seminar once a month where they educate the team captains on their responsibilities and what things they should be doing with their teams. That is one of the things that I want to bring here so the kids understand what their role is on the team and how to stop stuff like this.”
Respecting the student privacy rule, NT obviously could not reveal what type of consequence will be handed out, but Alger did say the soccer team will be able to continue it’s season as planned.
To his credit, the young man who admitted to being the bully sent an apology text to the team yesterday evening. He mentioned how sorry he was for not only hurting Kyle, but also for how his actions put his teammates, school and city in a negative light. A gesture the Toths truly appreciated as they feel for this young man and what he is going through.
Further, the Toths received a visit the following day from the young man so that he could personally apologize face-to-face. After departing their home, Mr. Toth immediately reached out to us and called the young man and his father a “Class Act” for taking full personal responsibility. There will be no hard feelings carried forward.
In the end, an unfortunate situation has been resolved and life lessons have been learned. The team will be able to press on, together, and grow from the situation.
“This is a life-changing event in a negative way,” Steve Toth said. “For our son and the other boy. They’ll be 70 years old and they will still be thinking about this.”