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Bennett controversy at C-NS takes unexpected turn

   Dec. 1, 2023: The NYSPHSAA closes the books on its 2023 fall season this weekend with its state football finals in Syracuse, but a drama from the semifinals could continue over the coming weeks after the Onondaga County Sheriff's Office denied wrongdoing in an incident during a Class AA playoff contest between Buffalo Bennett and Syracuse Christian Brothers Academy.

   CBA won Saturday's game, 21-8, to advance to the large-school final on Sunday against Carmel. The bigger story, however, was what transpired late in the first half and triggered more than an hour-long delay. There were serious allegations during and after the semifinal, and it now appears Bennett officials should now be contemplating whether they've bitten off more than they can chew.

   According to media reports out of Western New York on Thursday, police said Bennett head coach Steve McDuffie, district AD Michael House, and assistant coach Dijuan Todd contacted the sheriff's office, alleging a deputy assaulted McDuffie. Now, the law enforcement agency is pushing back, and the coaches and administrators would be facing charges.

   The sheriff's office revealed it has asked the Onondaga County District Attorney to determine whether McDuffie, House, and Todd should be charged with filing a false report. Sheriff's officials said they had handed over evidence and signed affidavits to the DA's office regarding Saturday's incident at Cicero-North Syracuse High in Section 3, The Buffalo News reported.

   "After reviewing the voluntary sworn written affidavits of Steve McDuffie, Michael House, and Dijuan Todd, gathering all information regarding the interaction with the deputy and Coach McDuffie, including multiple videos, it has been determined that the signed affidavits do not match the evidence," Onondaga County Sheriff Toby Shelley said in a statement. "Therefore, the Onondaga County Sheriff's Office will turn over their signed affidavits and all evidence, including police reports to the Onondaga County District Attorney's Office. The Sheriff's Office will request the District Attorney's Office to review the affidavits and evidence to determine if they will proceed¬∑with criminal prosecution of the two coaches and the Assistant Athletic Director for filing a false report."

   Shelley made his decision after viewing video from deputies' body-worn cameras, C-NS security cameras, and NFHS Network's streamed game coverage.


   "At no point during the deputy's duties did either deputy become aggressive, abusive or assault Coach McDuffie," Shelley said.

   The later statement, however, is the subject of some debate, adding complexity to the newest in what has been a series of grievances with race-related aspects involving the Bennett program. It's an element as to why this dispute is potentially both headed to criminal court and continued media attention.

   The fireworks began with 1:57 to play in the second quarter while CBA held a 14-0 lead. According to the Buffalo paper, a Tigers player was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, an assistant received a flag for stepping on the field after multiple requests to step back, then House, who is the district's assistant superintendent for athletics, was also flagged.

   The Bennett sideline erupted, and venue supervisors summoned security. House reportedly tried making the case that the assistant went onto the field because CBA coaches were also on the field, and the Bennett contingent announced it was protesting the game.

   Reports say body-cam footage shows one of the deputies placing a hand on McDuffie -- but not in a forceful manner -- while trying to escort him from the field, having believed the coach had been ejected. Later, McDuffie can be heard saying, "Don't ever put your hands on me again."

   A 67-minute delay ensued as the officiating crew sent the teams to the locker rooms while attempting to sort things out; the protest was denied by the NYSPHSAA, which noted that on-field decisions by game officials that do not mis-apply a rule are not subject to protest.

   "I just really have to say that the officials tonight called the worst game and were totally biased," McDuffie told the newspaper Saturday. "What I seen today, I'm just going to call a spade, a spade. I feel my kids were being abused. They weren't making calls, and it was acts of racism from the officials."

   Later, McDuffie doubled down.

   "They weren't doing the job they were paid to do, and at this point I believe everybody in New York State has seen what happened and this situation needs to be brought to everyone's attention," he said.

   Once the teams returned to the field, they played out the remaining 1:57 of the second quarter and took a brief break before beginning the second half.

   CBA went on to victory, setting up this weekend's final vs. Carmel. Bennett's season ends with an 11-1 record, but the matter at hand is anything but over as the District Attorney's office assesses whether charges should be brought.

   Separately, but not insignificantly, there is the allegation of racism also hanging out there. McDuffie's reference to "racism from the officials" is unlikely to sit well with those officials, the organization representing them, and potentially the NYSPHSAA and the State Education Department.

   Saturday was hardly the first time Bennett or BPS administrators alleged race was a factor in decisions that went against the school's teams. A few examples:

   After the NYSPHSAA issued a postponement of a 2021 football quarterfinal between Bennett and McQuaid because of a COVID outbreak on the Section 5 school's roster, then-Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash demanded a forfeit (which Section 6 officials also supported), citing "a racial injustice and inequity issue."

   Last March, the district's contention of a perceived disparity in how Section 6 handled player ineligibility penalties after Bennett had to forfeit six football wins led to Buffalo Public Schools filing a human rights complaint alleging "race-based discrimination."

   The newspaper account of the latter incident included a laundry list of other BPS grievances, including two Section 6 in attendance at the state football finals not congratulating the Tigers for winning last fall.

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