Catholic school basketball coach resigns amid allegations of 'poison letters'

By Jim Boyle | Feb 11, 2015

PHILADELPHIA - The head coach of a three-time state championship high school girls basketball team resigned his position this week after a rival coach accused him of sending "poison letters" about her players to colleges, according to a slander suit filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

John Gallagher stepped down without comment from coaching the Archbishop Wood girls basketball team on Monday after reports of his alleged involvement with a smear campaign came to light in court documents.

According to papers filed by Letitia "Letty" Santarelli, former head coach of one of the nation's top girls basketball teams at Neumann-Goretti High School, Gallagher refused to respond to a subpoena served in December compelling him to appear before the court with copies of emails that he allegedly sent to colleges potentially interested in recruiting her seniors.

An official complaint has not been filed yet at the Court of Common Pleas, but motions suggest that the smear campaign has been led by former Neumann Goretti coach Stephen Skedzielewski.

According to a motion to find Skedzielewski in contempt for failing to appear at a deposition with subpoenaed documents, the former coach was bitter about being replaced by Santarelli in 2012.

According to the paperwork, Sanatarelli was originally approached to take over the team in 2010, but she had to decline because of a full schedule as a mom and active community volunteer.

Skedzielewski took the job, but Santarelli replaced Skedzielewski. The fired coach allegedly told others that he was out to get her fired.

Upon Santarelli's arrival, Neumann Goretti's recruitment efforts received a huge boost with the transfer of two star players from rival Prep Charter, Ciani Cryor and A.J. Timbers, and the addition of Christina Aborowa and Felicia “Fee” Aiyeotan, both originally from Nigeria that legally live in Philadelphia with a host family.

The Saints' record improved to 47-1 in the last two years with the only loss coming at the Class AA state championship game against Seton-La Salle last year.

Even with Santarelli's resignation in November for personal reasons, the team remains undefeated and ranked first in the country by USA Today. The team's success has led to intense recruitment by universities nationwide, but the experience has been tarnished by the alleged smear campaign.

According to the court documents, emails from an account registered to "kyle dUNN" and sent to college recruiters claimed that Aborowa and Aiyeotan were in the country illegally, older than what the school claimed and that Neumann Goretti used illegible players to compete.

The documents say that similar messages were sent to local sports media outlets and officials at the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.

A trace of the sender account has been traced to Gallagher, according to court papers, and that information disclosed in the messages could only be known by someone formerly connected with the team.

The documents say that neither Gallagher nor Skedzielewski has denied their involvement with the campaign. The Court of Common Pleas has been asked to compel the defendants to appear for depositions or be held in contempt.

Santarelli is represented by attorneys from Elliott Greenleaf & Siedzikowski, PC.

The case ID is 141101741.

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