The Sachem East High School football coach who was reassigned Friday pending an investigation into the death of one of his players said Saturday that he is “heartbroken by the loss of a fine young man” and accepts the district’s decision to remove him as coach.
Mark Wojciechowski, in his first comments since the death of junior Joshua Mileto on Aug. 10, told Newsday in a statement that he supports the school district’s decision to appoint an interim coach while it investigates the circumstances surrounding Mileto’s death during a log-carrying training exercise.
“I fully understand and accept the district’s need to conduct a full and fair investigation,” Wojciechowski said. “I support it, and at this time, it makes sense for me to step aside and accept the reassignment to give the school district full latitude to do its work.”
Mileto, 16, died after a log that he and four other players were carrying over their heads during an exercise fell and struck his head.
Mileto and dozens of other players were taking part in a summer football camp on school grounds that was run by the Sachem East coaches but funded by the Sachem East Touchdown Club. Representatives of the football team’s booster club have not returned messages seeking comment.
“Since the tragic accident that claimed the life of Josh Mileto, I have been grieving along with everyone else in our terrific community,” Wojciechowski said.
Sachem Superintendent Kenneth Graham announced on Friday night that Wojciechowski and an unnamed assistant coach were removed from the team while the district continues to “gather the facts surrounding this devastating event.”
Anthony Gambino, who was previously the team’s defensive coordinator under Wojciechowski, is taking over as interim head coach. He did not return a message seeking comment.
A Suffolk police investigation into Mileto’s death also remains active, and Graham has said that the findings of either investigation — by Suffolk police or the school district — could “at any given point” impact the football team’s status.
The football team began practice on Saturday, four days after the funeral service for their teammate drew hundreds of people, including many in football jerseys. But it was conducted without their longtime coach.
Wojciechowski grew up in the Sachem area, played high school football at Sachem before the district split into two high schools, won Newsday’s Hansen Award in 1985 as Suffolk’s best player and has been a football coach in the district for about two decades. He has been the head football coach at Sachem East since 2011.
“I wish my student-athletes and the entire Sachem football program the best in the months ahead,” Wojciechowski added Saturday.
Sachem East’s first game of this season is scheduled for Sept. 9 at home against Lindenhurst. It was pushed back from Sept. 1 so that the team has enough time to get the state-mandated 15 practices completed before its first scheduled game.
Tom Combs, executive director of Section XI, which governs Suffolk County high school sports, said the other football coaches in Sachem East’s division had no problem manipulating the already set schedule “as a way to help out.” High schools throughout New York State officially began practice last Monday.
Sachem East’s first practice Saturday was closed to the media.
Graham, the district superintendent, added in his statement on Friday night that “the administration and athletic director will closely monitor the practices and the district will continue to offer support services to the family, team and entire student body.”