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Cipp stressed by grade-fixing scandal

Joe Cipp Jr., superintendent of the South County

Joe Cipp Jr., superintendent of the South County Central School District, addresses the crowd during a board meeting. (Dec. 7, 2011) Credit: Thomas A. Ferrara

Joe Cipp Jr., the former South Country Central School District superintendent and the winningest high school football coach in Suffolk County history, said the alleged grade-fixing scandal that led to his resignation in March has been "the worst four months in my life."

"It's going to be a while before I'm able to enjoy myself again," said Cipp, who attended the Suffolk County Hall of Fame induction ceremony Thursday in Patchogue. "It's always weighing on me because my integrity was in question.

"I never asked anybody to change a grade and I've never changed a grade,'' Cipp said.

The former football coach resigned after a preliminary investigation determined he "created an atmosphere of pressure upon the administration" to ensure that former Bellport football star Ryan Sloan received an NCAA scholarship. At the time, Cipp said he was resigning "to put the focus back on our students and academics."

Cipp, 63, said Thursday he takes some solace in Sloan "passing all of his classes" as a freshman at Syracuse University. Sloan, 19, is a defensive lineman on the Syracuse football team.

When reached by phone Friday, Sloan declined to comment. His guardian, Edward Carson of East Patchogue, said Sloan had a 2.7 grade-point average and passed all his classes in the fall semester at Syracuse.

"It not only proves people wrong, but it's a slap in their face," Carson said. "If Ryan's grades were so bad in high school, to the point where they needed to be changed, how could he be successful at a school like Syracuse?"

Carson said Sloan has been instructed by himself and the Syracuse coaching staff "to make no comments to the media. We want him cut off from the Bellport drama. He needs to focus on Syracuse football and his studies."

Syracuse University did not immediately return a call for comment.

The controversy started in December after accusations by fired school principal Kevin O'Connell, who said he was forced out because he refused to boost Sloan's grades. O'Connell alleged that Cipp urged teachers to raise Sloan's grades so the senior would meet NCAA scholarship requirements.

Sloan and his guardian said he worked hard to improve his grades on his own. An independent probe conducted by Melville attorney Bronwyn Black -- hired by the school board to investigate the allegations -- found Sloan's grades were changed "at the direction of the administration."

Cipp had retired from coaching after the 2010 season after Sloan helped lead Bellport to the Long Island Class II championship. The coach's 211 career wins are the most in Suffolk history. "I was asked to come out of retirement to take the job ," Cipp said, "but if people don't have confidence in me to do it . . . Life goes on."

The school board accepted Cipp's resignation in a 5-3 vote, but under the terms of his departure, had to pay him more than $545,000 -- a lump sum of his salary through 2014. "I was under contract so they had to buy me out," Cipp said. He was replaced May 2 by interim superintendent Howard Koenig.

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