Pa. wrestling coach on trial for failure to stop and report team's hazing incidents

RICH CHOLODOFSKY
The (Greensburg) Tribune Review (TNS)
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Ritual hazing among members of the Greater Latrobe Area Junior High School wrestling team was ongoing as the boys' coach stood feet away, a district administrator told a Westmoreland County judge on Tuesday.

That testimony came during the first day in the nonjury trial of former wrestling head coach Cary James Lydic.

Prosecutors charged Lydic with misdemeanor counts of child endangerment and failure to report the alleged hazing incidents last year.

Lydic, 30, of Greensburg was charged after reports surfaced that several members of the junior high school's wrestling team were assaulted with a wooden stick in the gymnasium before practice in January 2020. School officials ended the team's season after the hazing allegations were made.

Michael Porembka, the school district's assistant superintendent, testified officials became aware of the hazing allegations Jan. 15, 2020. A student reported members of the junior high school's wrestling team, which includes seventh, eighth and ninth graders, were held, tied down with a volleyball net and jabbed with an object dubbed a "rape stick."

"We called in students, and it became apparent to us we would need to involve the Pennsylvania State Police," Porembka testified.

Security video recorded Jan. 8, 2020, from the school's wrestling gym, played in court Tuesday, depicted students as they held down other teens and repeatedly jabbed them, while clothed, with the stick.

As the video played, Porembka told the judge Lydic entered the gym and watched at least one alleged hazing incident before he took the stick and tossed it behind a rolled-up mat.

Westmoreland County prosecutors contend Lydic was required by district policy and state law to report the hazing incidents to authorities as potential child abuse cases.

Assistant coach David F. Galando, 44, of Youngstown also was charged with misdemeanor counts of child endangerment and failing to report potential child abuse allegations.

He was ordered last October to serve two years on probation as part of a deal with prosecutors that enabled him to enroll in the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program for first-time, nonviolent offenders.

Galando did not plead guilty to the charges, and his criminal record can be expunged after two years.

Four 15-year-old boys, all members of the wrestling team, were prosecuted in juvenile court. Assistant District Attorney Judi Petrush said child privacy laws prevent her from disclosing how those cases were resolved.

Lydic has denied wrongdoing.

" Coach Lydic continues to maintain his innocence, and we reserve further comment until the conclusion of his trial," defense attorneys Casey White and Michael Lazzaro said in a statement after Tuesday's session.

Six students, wrestlers and others associated with the team, testified Tuesday before Westmoreland County Common Pleas Judge Tim Krieger. They said they watched or were victims of the hazing incidents.

Several claimed Lydic was told what had occurred.

"Coach just told us it was weird and shouldn't be happening," testified a now-15-year-old boy.

That student's father testified that during a phone call in mid-January, he confronted Lydic with the hazing allegations.

"He said he had to get the kids' stories and talk to the other guys. He said he felt it was more horseplay," he told the judge. "It didn't seem like he believed me."

The prosecution will continue to present its case when the trial resumes Wednesday.

White said Lydic is expected to testify.