- Associated Press - Thursday, October 9, 2014

NATRONA HEIGHTS, Pa. (AP) - A high school soccer coach wasn’t present, didn’t condone and didn’t know about two senior players duct-taping an autistic teammate to a goal post, the coach’s attorney said Thursday.

Highlands High School coach Jim Turner has been suspended while school officials investigate.

“Mr. Turner had absolutely no involvement in the incident, was not present when it happened, and first learned of the allegations about the students after the fact,” Neiser said in an emailed statement Thursday.

Last year’s team captain, Victor Nelson, 18, also defended the coach. He told the (Tarentum) Valley News Dispatch (https://bit.ly/1shVKfu ) that the duct-taping is part of an annual ritual that occurs the same night underclassmen toilet paper the houses of senior players. That usually happens a few days before the final home game of the year, when senior players are honored.

The final home game was supposed to be Thursday, but the district canceled the game, according to spokeswoman Misty Chybrzynski.

Kristie Babinsack acknowledges her 16-year-old son, Austin, participated in “decorating” senior players’ houses with toilet paper and streamers on Sunday, but told the newspaper the boy was traumatized when the upperclassmen chose to duct-tape him Sunday evening. He was freed by passers-by after about 20 minutes, and quit the team after teammates called him a “snitch” at Monday’s game, she said.

Babinsack’s listed phone number was disconnected Thursday.

Nelson, who has since graduated, said the coach was never involved in the ritual, though the ex-player said the tradition goes back at least 10 years and was common knowledge among players and their parents.

Turner, who has been coaching since 2004, had no comment on the ritual, Neiser said. The coach is cooperating with the school district’s investigation, the attorney said.

Neiser’s statement said: “Any reports of Mr. Turner’s involvement, approval or prior knowledge with respect to any aspect of the incident are patently false and unequivocally denied.”

Harrison Township police were investigating whether juvenile court charges were warranted against the two students involved. Chief Mike Klein hasn’t returned calls for comment.

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