That he received the National Football Foundation’s Suffolk Top Scholar-Athlete Award while his school and former football coach, Joe Cipp Jr., are embroiled in controversy over the alleged grade-changing of former teammate Ryan Sloan, “doesn’t affect me at all or take anything away from this,” Bellport quarterback Justin Honce said Sunday at the Crest Hollow Country Club. “I know I put in a lot of hard work over the years.”
Honce was recognized for his efforts on the field and in the classroom, where he holds a 96 GPA. The Brown-bound senior is also a member of the National Honor Society.
Last week, an inquiry was ordered to investigate Bellport High School’s grading practices after Kevin O'Connell, the school’s former principal, said he was forced out this year after refusing to pressure a teacher to augment Sloan's scores. O’Connell alleged that Cipp Jr., the former football coach of 32 years and district superintendent, urged teachers to boost Sloan’s math grades last year so the senior would meet NCAA scholarship requirements. Sloan is a freshman defensive lineman at Syracuse.
“It [stinks] for Coach Cipp and the school,” Honce said. “It’s unfortunate because I don’t believe what they’re saying is true. Coach Cipp would do a lot to help you, but in a positive way. You’ve got to earn things here.
"One of my good friends is [Sloan’s] stepbrother and he said it’s not phasing Ryan because he knows it’s not true.”
Cipp Jr. retired after winning last year’s Class II Long Island Championship and his 211 career wins are the most all-time in Suffolk history.
Honce’s mother, Cheryln, also defended the former coach. “It’s a wonderful program and he’s dedicated most of his life to this,” she said of Cipp Jr. “It’s something he’s built for us and these kids and he wouldn’t jeopardize that. I’m sorry that Coach is going through this now, but I think it’ll come to light that there was no wrongdoing on his part.”
Cipp Jr. was in attendance for his induction into the Long Island High School Hall of Fame but said that, on the suggestion of his lawyer, he wouldn't speak about the controversy. Cipp Jr. did maintain his innocence but said the allegations cast somewhat of a pall over his being honored. “When your reputation is attacked, nothing can brighten your day until it’s fixed.”
The former coach added that Honce “earned the award and it’s something he should be very proud of.”
Of his Hall of Fame induction: “I’m honored, but it’s really something that goes to the people that played for me; kids who came in, elevated their play from when they started, and reached such a level of success. No matter how good a coach is, you don’t get that many wins without having good players.”