Business Owner Cancels $15K Scholarship Over Football Investigation

By on November 30, 2017

CamecoJerry Perl, the chairman and chief executive of Verona-based Cameco Inc., has cancelled a $15,000 scholarship open to all Verona High School seniors over the Verona school district’s investigation into the VHS football program.

Frank Ferrari, father of two former VHS football players, announced Perl’s decision at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday night, characterizing it as a suspension of the scholarship, which is VHS’s largest. But in an interview today, Perl made the decision seem to be more definitive. “I don’t know if I’ll go back and do it or not,” he said. “Right now, I don’t plan to.”

Perl, a 1970 graduate of VHS who played football under legendary Coach Al Rotella, attended two of the BOE’s recent meetings said he was “horrified” by the way the BOE acted. “I was ashamed to be from Verona,” said Perl, who is now a resident of Montclair. Cameco is a food products company that is now in its third generation of Perl family ownership.

Lou Racioppe was placed on administrative leave in early October after nearly two decades as VHS football’s head coach. Verona’s superintendent, Dr. Rui Dionisio, came under heavy criticism for that decision at the BOE’s October 30 meeting, which was packed with current and former football players, including Perl. Perl said today that he was “friendly” with Racioppe and had coached against him in travel baseball. Racioppe, who had also been VHS’s baseball coach until stepping down in 2013, was not reinstated as football coach before the end of the season. VHS coaches are hired on a seasonal basis and must reapply for a coaching position every year.

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Perl declined to say much about the investigation. “I have no idea whether he should have been suspended,” Perl said of Racioppe.

“A few key Board members were awful,” added Perl, who did not mention specific names, “and their attorney was just an embarrassment.” Perl conceded however that “the residents weren’t so good either” but added, “I expect more from a Board of Education.” BOE members and Dr. Dionisio were repeatedly heckled by the audience during the October 30 meeting and came under criticism again at the November 14 meeting.

BOE President John Quattrocchi took pains at the October 30 meeting to explain that the football investigation was conducted by school administrators, not the BOE, and that it followed a well established investigative procedure in the district. The BOE released a statement about the results of the investigation on November 4. It found that a majority of the varsity starters said that the head football coach or an assistant coach had denied water breaks, used inappropriate language or had grabbed a player’s face mask in an inappropriate way, among other issues. The district released only percentages on the responses and not longer answers that players may have provided, citing confidentiality. Quattrocchi stressed at the November 14 meeting that the district had “input” from its attorneys at each step of the investigative process. Both Quattrocchi and Dr. Dionisio declined to comment today on the scholarship’s withdrawal.

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Asked why VHS students should be penalized for school district actions, Perl said only, “People can think that and they are entitled to that.”

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