By AKANE OTANI
The University has dismissed Ben DeLuca ’98, head coach of men’s lacrosse, two months after the team’s upperclassmen were caught forcing freshmen to chug beer in a hazing incident.
“This was a difficult decision, but our students are our first priority and there is no doubt now that new leadership is required,” Andy Noel, director of Athletics and Physical Education, said in a statement Thursday.
Neither Noel nor other University officials were available to answer questions from the press about why DeLuca was dismissed. DeLuca was also unavailable for comment Thursday evening.
Multiple alumni and former lacrosse players said they were shocked to hear the news. J.J. Gilbane ’12, a former midfielder for the team, said the dismissal of DeLuca — who he said “lives and breathes Cornell lacrosse” — came as “a complete surprise” to both him and other alumni.
The news has left people “dumbfounded,” added Rob Pannell ’13, former captain of the lacrosse team, who told Bloomberg News the team and alumni believe hazing allegations were related to DeLuca’s dismissal.
“They had no idea this was coming and are very upset with the news,” Pannell told Bloomberg News.
Just two months earlier, the University announced it had suspended the men’s lacrosse team because of reports that upperclassmen had hazed its freshmen. After investigating the incident — which allegedly involved freshmen being asked to stand together in a circle and chugging beer to the point where some of them vomited — the University cancelled the team’s fall games.
While the nationally competitive team’s season does not start until the spring, University officials maintained that the punishment was a “tough penalty.”
“What it represents is an opportunity for the coaching staff to see the freshman and younger players in four competitions, and that is input that they find very valuable,” Noel said following the fall games’ cancellation. The team was also asked to participate in anti-hazing education programs in the incident’s aftermath.
As the University launches a national search for DeLuca’s replacement, Matt Kerwick, who served as the Red’s assistant coach in its 2013 season, will work as the team’s interim head coach. Kerwick has previously coached teams at Hobart College and Jacksonville University.
Gilbane expressed his confidence that Kerwick, along with the team’s other coaches, will “keep the team focused and lead them in this difficult time.”
DeLuca has been a “fixture on the Cornell men’s lacrosse sideline for more than a decade,” Cornell Athletics says on DeLuca’s online profile, noting that the lacrosse veteran boasted a string of accomplishments dating back to his undergraduate years — including being a four-year letterwinner and serving as captain his senior year. Under DeLuca’s tenure as head coach, the men’s lacrosse team went 37-11 overall and 16-2 in the Ivy League, the Associated Press reported.
“He will always be a part of the Big Red family,” said Scott Austin ’12, former attackman for the team. “He gave a considerable part of his life to Cornell.”
The University said that while it recognizes DeLuca’s contributions to the lacrosse team, new leadership is necessary to “best serve our students and to continue our lacrosse program’s decades-long tradition of excellence.” DeLuca’s dismissal comes a little more than three years after the University named him head coach of the lacrosse program.
The University’s actions against the lacrosse team in September marked the latest of its efforts to stamp out hazing across campus, which gained national attention after former Sigma Alpha Epsilon brother George Desdunes ’13 died in a kidnapping ritual in Spring 2011. Penning an op/ed in The New York Times that August, President David Skorton pledged to end hazing on Cornell’s campus — especially that which involved “high-risk drinking.”
Since then, the University has disciplined numerous student organizations for engaging in “misconduct that exhibits hazing and/or a threat or disregard for students’ mental health or physical health and safety.” In the 2012-13 academic year, at least nine fraternities and sororities were disciplined for hazing, according to Cornell’s anti-hazing website, which details the incidents online.
Groups that self-report incidents to the University and eliminate the practices are not subject to the “Sunshine Policy,” which necessitates public disclosure of hazing incidents.