AKRON, Ohio — Akron Public Schools has placed Ellet Community Learning Center head football coach Steve Fasig on paid administrative leave as the district continues to investigate the death of a player while on a team outing.
Fourteen-year-old Toshaye Pope, an incoming freshman at Akron Early College High School, drowned on July 21 while at a picnic with his new teammates at Melanie Lake in Springfield Township. Since his specialty school does not offer football, he was permitted to play for Ellet, which will now be lead by an interim coach while Fasig is away.
"Our hearts remain with the family of an incoming Early College High School student who drowned while attending a picnic with the Ellet CLC football team," APS Superintendent Christine Fowler Mack said in a statement to students and parents. "The District has ordered a full investigation of the incident. In the meantime, we have placed the coach on paid administrative leave from his coaching duties at APS, pending outcome of the investigation."
Attorneys from the Cleveland-based law firm Tittle & Perlmuter, which is representing the Pope family, have claimed Toshaye's parents "were never informed of the team's plans [for an outing] until they received a phone call from law enforcement to rush to the hospital." Witnesses also reported lifeguards were not around at the time Toshaye drowned, although Melanie Lake managing partner Jeremy Caudill has asserted his staff followed "all safety measures possible, including meeting state regulations and maintaining current appropriate permits."
Tittle & Perlmuter released the following statement Tuesday on behalf of the Pope family:
"It is ironic that it was not until several news stories came out about Toshaye’s tragic death, that Akron Public Schools took some action, in the form of placing Coach Fasig on paid administrative leave, in furthering its investigation. While the old saying, 'better late than never,' holds true here, Toshaye's family hopes Akron Public Schools truly conducts a comprehensive investigation into the events, choices, and system failures that lead to Toshaye's death. We all want answers – placing Coach Fasig on leave is the first step in doing so.
"Being a high school football coach is not about wins or losses – it is about using the vehicle of football to teach student-athletes life lessons, like doing the right thing, even when it is difficult to do so. Hopefully, Akron Public Schools sets a good example going forward by doing just that."
Fasig has yet to coach a game at Ellet, having been hired this past spring to replace Chuck Shuman. The current staff will lead practices until an interim head coach is formally named, with the Orangemen set to open their season on Aug. 19 at Green.