Father defends Staples coach; Facebook fans set new strategy
The father of the Staples High School football coach charged with giving freshman players access to pornography is defending his son as "wrongly accused" amid circumstances that have been blown out of proportion because of the Penn State child-abuse scandal involving a coach and underage boys.
In brief remarks Tuesday to the Westport News, Richard Pickering, the father of Mike Pickering, the 40-year-old assistant coach of the Staples freshman football team, said, "This has been blown completely out of proportion because of the Penn State issue."
He said his son, who has been a coach of the Staples team for nine seasons, is "a very nice young man, and he is dedicated to his children. He is not as he has been depicted. He is only in this predicament because he loves those boys."
Previously, the senior Pickering had posted comments on the "Free Pick" page on Facebook, launched by students last week in support of the coach, describing his son as a good guy, a great friend and family man who loves his wife and son.
The students and alumni who launched the Facebook page last week appear to be scaling back their campaign of public support for the coach.
The "Free Pick" page on the social-networking site was posted less than a day after three risk of injury to a minor counts were filed against Pickering. Westport police on Nov. 17 charged tha Pickering gave several players the access number to a pornographic website. He told police, according to their account, that he thought the porn access number would be a way to overcome issues between players on the team and foster a spirit of camaraderie.
Pickering's appearance on the risk of injury charges in Norwalk Superior Court has been postponed to Dec. 9. He is free after posting a $50,000 bond.
School officials said he has been "removed" from both his coaching position as well as his full-time job as a heating and air-conditioning technician at Staples. They will not say, however, if that means he has been suspended or terminated.
Meanwhile, his photo and biographical information has been removed from the Wreckers football website.
The Facebook page gained hundreds of members quickly, most of them writing in support of Pickering and several urging sympathizers to publicly show support for him by wearing sunglasses -- a Pickering trademark -- and "Free Pick" logo or white T-shirts en masse at school, the Thanksgiving day football game and at his court arraignment.
The page was first posted on the social-networking site by a Staples student. The address for the Free Pick page on the social-networking website is: http://www.facebook.com/groups/114735445306837
But supporters earlier this week appeared to be adopting a lower-profile strategy.
More than a dozen attempts to reach members of the Staples community went unanswered via Facebook on Monday, the same day students planned to show support for Pickering by wearing T-shirts and sunglasses to classes and to his court arraignment.
The total number of page members by Wednesday morning was 833.
Bobby Jacowleff, in a Saturday afternoon posting, said according to people in the legal field he consulted, "It is a bad idea to get shirts."
The shirts, he said, could "bring way too much publicity and the media will be all over it and that won't help Pick[ering]. The longer he is out of the media the better so let's try and keep it that way."
One supporter is Mike Ulich, who claims in his posting he is a 2004 Staples graduate who knew Pickering and is the CEO of a "major porn company." Perhaps to the dismay of parents and school officials, Ulich stated in his posting that he is "offering anybody who is a member of this group and in support of Coach Pickerson [sic] a FREE 30-day pass to my website."
Thirty-two people "like" that posting, including 12 people who had "Staples High School" listed below their names.
A post from "Ram Seiner," noting that Pickering -- who also worked on Staples' maintenance staff -- regularly wore sunglasses, suggests that students wear sunglasses to school in support.
"When I tore my MCL he carried my [butt] to the car, like I weighed nothing," Donaldson posted.
Avery Watterworth, who graduated Staples last year, wrote, "He was such a good guy. He'd share the food in his fridge" and the "shirt off his back."
He said Pickering should be reprimanded, but not charged with a felony with by the police. "It's not that big of a deal," he said.
Sophomore football player Burim Trdevaj and 2011 Staples graduate Raphael-Andre Ray, in successive posts, encouraged "Free Pick" page members to unite and make a statement by showing up at Pickering's court appearance.
"That's where it matters most," Ray said.
Ryan Gilland, whose profile lists him a part of the Staples "network," added, "Having Coach Pick[ering] as a football coach was the only thing that kept me playing football. I was bad but he made the sport fun for me."
Bryan Gerla, now living in New Orleans, according to his profile, said Pickering "was more than a freshman sports coach to a lot of us and seeing him go down for something like this is just wrong."
Maxx Reiner was a junior varsity lacrosse player coached by Pickering. He recalled the married father as "the coolest, most understanding man Staples has ever had walk through the faculty doors."
Reiner added, "Having known the man for four-plus years, I can say this is the worst thing to happen to Staples High School."
One person going by the name "Ewic East," a cook at Joey's By the Shore, said, "Coach Pick[ering] taught me fundamental values needed to succeed not only in a lacrosse environment but also values that will help me later in life."
In another post, "Ewic East" said Pickering gave true meaning to the term "Gentle Giant."
Another Pickering backer urged people planning to attend Staples' next football game -- on Thanksgiving Day -- wearing sunglasses and white T-shirts "to support Pick."
Henri Rizack, a sophomore at Staples, suggested students should come to school Friday and donate to Pickering's bail fund. Responders to the post it will take a lot more than $5 to $20 each to reach $50,000.
While most comments were positive, a few did not support Pickering.
Andrew Gai, a Staples golfer, wrote, "Pornography is immoral ... and God frowns upon watchers of it."
Among the hundreds of posts on the Facebook page, and the comments in response to the postings, several commenters indicate they know the identity of the person who reported Pickering to authorities.
One student wrote, "When everyone finds out who this kid is she will be hated."