Solanco’s high school football coach has been accused in federal court of using racial slurs toward black players in what a lawsuit alleges was a “racially harassing, hostile and discriminatory environment” created by the district.
In a civil complaint filed in June, two former students allege teachers and staff violated the Civil Rights Act by allowing the use of discriminatory and racist language and actions on and around Solanco property.
Solanco, one of the least diverse school districts in the county with white students making up 87% of its student body, denies the allegations. A district spokesperson said in an email it promotes a “culture where racism and discrimination are not tolerated and where respect is the norm.”
The complaint was filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in Allentown by two black students and their mother.
When confronted about the district’s “bigoted and prejudiced atmosphere,” Solanco administrators allegedly failed to act, the complaint states.
Chief among the alleged offenders is Anthony Cox, Solanco High School’s head football coach for the past five years. Cox, who is white, did not return phone calls and emails throughout the week, but his lawyer, Chris Conrad, of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, sent a brief email in response.
“Mr. Cox is disappointed and saddened by the claims brought by these former students and their parent, and he adamantly denies the allegations against him,” Conrad said.
Liberty Mutual, Solanco’s insurance company, appointed Cox’s attorney and the district’s lawyer, John Freund III from King, Spry, Herman, Freund & Faul.
The complaint states Eniyah Brown-Moore, a 2018 Solanco graduate, experienced “racist conduct” from a teacher in her political science class in 2018, when the teacher said “those types of students” — an apparent reference to Brown-Moore’s race — don’t become valedictorians.
When Brown-Moore expressed concerns over the display of confederate flags in school and during football games, Superintendent Brian Bliss “failed (to) take actions against the display of confederate flags or even sympathize” with the student, the complaint alleges.
The complaint states Brown-Moore’s brother, who is not named in the complaint because he’s a minor, witnessed Cox and other Solanco students making racial epithets on several occasions.
The complaint also alleges a fellow student and teammate posted on social media a digitally altered image of the black student in his football uniform carrying a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
The student who posted the image was charged with a hate crime, according to the complaint. The Lancaster County district attorney’s office could not confirm the claim because it involves a juvenile.
Cox asked the black student to meet about the social media post. When they met, Cox allegedly told the black student he shouldn’t be offended by the post and that the player wouldn’t be kicked off the team for posting it.
The family is represented by Brian Mildenberg, of the Philadelphia-based Mildenberg Law Firm. The firm has a history of taking cases alleging racial discrimination, according to its website.
“We look forward to our client having his day in court,” Mildenberg said in an email. “Our client hopes that the school district will be free of discriminatory incidents of this nature in the future.”
A ‘family man’
The complaint also alleges Cox used a racial slur during a 2015 football practice, prompting black members of the team to walk off the field.
LNP contacted several members of the team in an attempt to verify the allegation. One member of the team that year, Darren Whearry, 21, of Gap, said he doesn’t remember that happening.
“Who said that? No, sir. That never happened,” Whearry, a 2016 Solanco graduate who played running back his junior and senior years, said in a phone interview.
Whearry, who is black, said he’s never had issues with Cox. He described the coach as an “honest, hard worker” and a “family man.”
Cox, he said, let him live at his house for a year after Whearry ran into hard times in his personal life. “It was great. I learned a lot,” Whearry said. “I appreciate it until this day.”
“His whole family took me in,” he added. “… They all loved me, appreciated me.”
Mildenberg is seeking a jury trial in the case. The family is seeking relief for “irreparable injury and monetary damages” as a result of Cox’s and the district’s misconduct, the complaint states.
Efforts to reach the plaintiff family, as well as several current and former Solanco football players, were unsuccessful.