The start of spring football players helps team move forward after team rocked by arrests. Video: Richard Obert/azcentral sports
Coming down the walkway Monday afternoon, clipboard in hand, Richard Baniszewski barked at a player to not be late for the first spring football practice.
The kid began to run to the field.
Baniszewski ran Chandler Hamilton’s practice like a drill sergeant, never letting up, keeping players moving, as the season started in earnest with coach Steve Belles at home, his future uncertain.
“Bano has come up with a statement that says, ‘Rally the troops,’ ” junior defensive tackle Colin Maslin said. “It’s the first statement that brings us together. Everybody says that. It’s in the weight room. It’s in the locker room. Everybody’s fighting together.”
The battle began off the field with crime making the headlines earlier this month out of Hamilton.
Six football players were arrested over hazing incidents dating back to 2015. Four of them were charged, three in juvenile court and another as an adult, stemming from alleged sexual assaults against teammates.
The Chandler Unified School District placed Belles on home assignment.
Baniszewski, who calls Belles one of his best friends, is serving as interim head coach, while the district continues its investigation into the hazing incidents and whether Belles had knowledge. Baniszewski said he hasn’t been told anything about what Belles’ fate may be.
Hamilton Principal Ken James came out for the first part of the practice, and met briefly with Baniszewski, who is an assistant principal in charge of sophomores and the junior varsity coach.
Belles’ fate lies with the district.
“We have to come together,” Baniszewski said. “It’s about unity as a team. What are we going to do together? We’ve just got to stay tight as a fist right now. If we’re like this (waving his hand), we’re not going to get anything done. We want to see how they respond to adversity. Any kind of adversity.”
Baniszewski said there is supervision all the time, “everybody knows where they’re expected to be and when they’re supposed to be there.”
Junior quarterback Tyler Shough, who has had offers from Michigan and Alabama, said player-only meetings have been held since the hazing arrests rocked the football community.
Shough feels Baniszewski, who played and coached under former Tempe McClintock coach Karl Kiefer, has stabilized the program during this time.
“He’s positive, energetic,” Shough said. “It’s constructive criticism, getting things going in the weight room, just kind of restoring what we need to get back to. We need to focus on what we’re doing on the field more than what has happened off of it. Being on the field, that’s how we’re moving forward.”
Sophomore defensive back Javin Wright, son of former Nebraska and NFL cornerback Toby Wright, said the focus is on football and becoming the best team in the state again.
He said he knew some of the players involved in the hazing but he didn’t know what was going on.
“This is just like a milestone in the journey that we’re on right now,” Wright said. “We’re going to have go past it and get back on track.”
Hamilton’s defense took a huge hit last year, giving up 401 points in 12 games, finishing 7-5 and losing twice to Gilbert Perry for the first time, including a 63-60 6A overtime quarterfinal.
It was rock bottom for the defense at the school. Belles hired his nephew, Brian Belles, away from Glendale Cactus, where he won state championships as defensive coordinator under Larry Fetkenhier.
Brian Belles was at Hamilton’s practice Monday.
Now it is about trying to restore school pride and an image that has taken a hit.
“We’re more disciplined now and just looking out for each other,” junior running back Jawhar Jordan said. “Don’t make any mistakes.”
Maslin said everybody is watching each other more in the locker room.
“We’re making sure everything is done right,” he said. “We’re very, very structured.”
Baniszewski’s voice was loud and clear on a cloudy Monday.
“They’re focused on playing football,” Baniszewski said. “And that’s what they need.”
To suggest human-interest story ideas and other news, reach Obert at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-316-8827. Follow him at twitter.com/azc_obert.