Senior night at Lake Shore is much like senior night for most high school football teams.
It's a joyful event that coach Drew Takacs looks forward to annually, but perhaps not as much as he did Thursday night.
The outcome of the game – West Seneca West 49, Lake Shore 6 – was familiar for the struggling team, but the atmosphere was different as the program has been enveloped in an investigation since junior tackle/defensive end Branden Hutchinson alleged that Takacs hit him during a practice last month.
"It meant a lot," Takacs said of experiencing game night. "My boys played their hearts out. The team stuck together here the last few weeks with all of our things going on, on the outside. The kids came together. … I could not be happier as a coach."
Takacs was making his first public comments since the allegations were reported last week by local television stations.
Hutchinson and his father, Craig, say that Takacs blindsided the player at full speed during a walk-through demonstration. Craig Hutchinson said the act was retaliation for an email he sent to a district official, complaining about play-calling in a 19-14 loss to Hamburg on Sept. 15. Lake Shore lost the game on the final play.
Takacs, in his fifth year as football coach at the school, continues to coach and teach at the school.
Takacs and school district officials have declined to comment on the allegation or the investigation in the last week and did so again Thursday night. The investigation by the district is ongoing, officials said.
"The superintendent, James Przepasniak, has met with a number of families concerning an issue with the varsity football program,” spokesman Josh Gregory said. “Because this is a personnel issue, there is no further comment the district can make."
Gregory also said the superintendent receives and responds daily to emails but said he could not reveal who sent them and the subject matter because of student confidentiality laws.
Przepasniak declined comment when approached by The News during Thursday's game.
Hutchinson questioned the district’s efforts to investigate, noting that the probe is being handled by an attorney from Harris Beach, the firm that represents the Lake Shore school district. Gregory declined to say whether the firm was handling the investigation.
“I don't understand how that's an independent investigation,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson also filed a complaint with Town of Evans police after the incident. A police spokesman confirmed the complaint but said no charges have been filed.
Branden Hutchinson said he has been treated by a chiropractor and been advised that he might not to be able to play sports this season. He said the damage to his neck and back is preventing him from working out to prepare for lacrosse season. Craig Hutchinson declined to provide specifics of his son’s condition other than to say he was “receiving medical attention.”
The coach has supporters who dispute the allegations, including parents of players who were at the practice. However, they have been unwilling to go on the record, citing concern that they would be leaving their children open to possible retaliation from other coaches in the district.
"I don't expect anybody to (step forward)," Takacs said. "My loyal fans, my loyal parents, my loyal players, my teachers, my family … they've been calling me and making sure everything is OK.
“I can't comment on the situation but people that know me, know me. They know who I am. They know the type of person I am. They know the kind of coach I've been for 18 years."
The Lake Shore program has suffered from lack of players for the past two seasons, which has affected on-field performance. Lake Shore has won just two of its last 14 games and has lost five straight since opening the season with a win against Eden/North Collins.
Carl Mascio, whose son Jake is a senior who has played with a broken hand the past three weeks, said he doesn’t always agree with Takacs’ coaching strategy but said Takacs hitting a player would be out of character.
Christina Jenkins no longer has a son on the team, but Lawrence Jenkins played four seasons for Takacs. He graduated last spring and is now in college. She said Takacs is a tough coach but she doesn't believe he would hit a player.
"Personality-wise I just don't think he's capable of doing this to a child,” she said. “I think it's a misunderstanding. … I hope it's not true, let's put it that way, but I can't prove anything."
The Hutchinsons expressed dismay with the pace of the probe and said Takacs should have been barred from coaching while the investigation is underway.
"I'm surprised that he hasn't been temporarily suspended until the investigation ended," Branden said. "I'm surprised it's taken this long.
"When people say it didn't happen … all I can say is, you weren't there. Whether or not they think he lightly hit me or hit me, there's damage and it's unacceptable for a coach to hit a student."
Craig Hutchinson said he doesn’t understand why some are doubting the incident happened and there are other issues, including Takacs using inappropriate language with his players. “There's the language the coach uses in the locker room with the children, the words he uses,” he said.
"He's supposed to be able to trust the coach in this situation” Craig Hutchinson said. “We're talking about a public official. My son is playing football because he loves the game of football. … He's supposed to be able to step foot on the field with confidence that wouldn't happen. I don't understand why people are trying to turn this around."
As to how the investigation will play out, Takacs is focused on work and preparing the Eagles for their next game – Thursday at All High Stadium against South Park. He also is confident that he will be exonerated.
"Everything will work out for me and my family and the coaching staff and the team here," Takacs said.