Did NJ High School Basketball Coach Cause Player’s Vision Loss? [AUDIO]
BREAKING NEWS UPDATE: This afternoon Townsquare Media NJ received a letter from members of the St. Peter's Prep basketball team in support of Coach Todd Decker. In the letter, the players say, "at no point ever have we felt threatened or fearful in any towards Coach Decker." They go on to say, "Coach Decker has nothing but our support and dedication."
By now, the entire world knows about the abuse fired and disgraced Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice put his players through, but we have a shocking story today about a former basketball player at St. Peter's Prep in Jersey City, who says he has partial vision loss that could be permanent, and he blames his coach.
The use of pads to simulate contact during basketball practices is standard at some schools. 17-year-old Tommy Papas says his former coach, Todd Decker uses them. Papas says he never had a problem with the use of pads until he was abused with one on Feb. 4, 2013.
"On this particular day at practice, upon seeing the assistant coach hitting the kids to an unsatisfactory amount of force Coach Decker shouted to the other coach, 'Don't hit him with the pad easy. Use it like a baseball bat,'" alleges Papas. "Coach Decker himself then swung not using the handles but using it like a baseball bat and attempted to swing at a kid as he went up for a lay-up. The kid dodged it and was thrown out of the drill. I was next in line and as I went up for the lay-up I was hit in the head with the pad just like a baseball bat would be swung."
Townsquare Media has obtained a legal document signed by a teen who claims to have been an eyewitness. The teen echoes Tommy's account of the events.
Severe Eye Trauma
There was an immediate black streak in the central vision of his right eye says Tommy. He claims to have told Decker he couldn't see and was directed to sit down. Papas says there was no trainer at the facility because the team was practicing off site.
He claims his father picked him up and took him to St. Peter's Prep where a trainer told him everything should get better soon, but if it didn't he should see a doctor. Tommy says he's seen several doctors.
"A retina specialist in Jersey City informed me that it was a severe trauma to the eye and it was deep bruising with a force so strong that it caused a liquid discharge in the back of my eye," says Tommy. "The cells lost may or may not heal and if it's going to get better it will be better in the next few months."
Specifically the doctor said if the vision isn't completely restored by April it is unlikely it would ever be fully restored says Tommy. It is April and Tommy estimates the vision in his right eye is 65-percent at best.
"On presentation he had a macular injury in his retina that most likely came from a significant impact against his head areas," according to an email from one of Tommy's doctors.
The next stop for Tommy was the well-respected Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia. He says he saw a specialist there too and the news wasn't good.
"I was told by one of the top doctors in the nation that there was no procedure that could help my eye heal and that if it does not get better by April that it's something I will have to live with for the rest of my life," alleges Tommy. "The doctor said that it was the equivalent force of a direct punch to the eye. Something he'd seen in bar fights."
The news was so discouraging Tommy said he left the team. He had been to games and practices, but not playing. He also feels there is some hypocrisy at St. Peter's.
"I feel if this had happened in a classroom, a similar incident of any kind, disciplinary action would have been taken right away for the teacher," believes Tommy. "Because we can play it off as an athletic incident nothing gets done and I still can't see."
Neither Decker nor Athletic Director Rich Hansen has ever apologized to Tommy's parents claims Papas. He also alleges that Decker told other kids on the team that they were not allowed to talk to Tommy and that has left him feeling isolated and ostracized. Tommy says he always loved St. Peter's Prep, but he is fairly confident he'll be in another school next year for his senior year.
Messages left with the St. Peter's Prep athletic department seeking a response to this story were not returned.
Because of New Jersey's charitable immunity law, Tommy's family may not be permitted to file a lawsuit, but his mother, Alexis Moloney says, "We are exploring our legal options."