Steubenville’s head coach says Richmond cleared to play

STEUBENVILLE – On Aug. 12, 2012, Ma’Lik Richmond sexually assaulted a Weirton girl at an underage drinking party. Today – Aug. 12, 2014 – Richmond likely will be in uniform as the Steubenville Big Red football team scrimmages Cambridge at 10 a.m. at Harding Stadium.

Big Red head football coach Reno Saccoccia confirmed in a published interview Monday that Richmond, convicted last year along with Trent Mays of sexually assaulting the then-16-year-old girl, has been reinstated to the football team and will take the field this season. Richmond is a senior.

He spent nine months of a one-year sentence at the Cuyahoga Hills Juvenile Detention Facility. Upon his release, Richmond returned as a student to Steubenville High School, starting classes in January.

Saccoccia said in the interview that Richmond completed everything the Ohio judicial system asked him to do.

“He was back in the school since January and was suspended from all extracurricular activities for the remainder of the year,” Saccoccia said. “I feel that we’re not giving him a second chance. Some may look at it like that. I feel he has earned a second chance.”

Saccoccia said it was not an easy decision to allow Richmond to return to the team, but noted that punishment for a juvenile activity should not be a “death sentence.”

“He’s one of 55 players that are in good standing with their teammates and their coaches who have the same opportunity as any other player,” he said.

Wheeling attorney Robert Fitzsimmons, who represents the victim, said Richmond will benefit from a structured program such as that offered by Saccoccia.

“This is part of the process for juveniles … and I think it’s good that he’s in a disciplined program,” Fitzsimmons said of Richmond being on the Big Red squad. “Coach Saccoccia is a good man to handle that, and I feel very comfortable” with him. “Some might disagree with me, but I do think it will be very good for him. Coach Saccoccia will be a very positive influence in what was a very bad situation.”

Dan Tierney, spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, said Richmond’s sentence did not address the issue of extracurricular activities.

He said whether Richmond would be permitted to play at a school other than Steubenville – as will happen during the team’s lone road game – would be up to that district’s policy.

Additionally, should Steubenville make the Ohio playoffs, the Ohio High School Athletic Association and Ohio Department of Education could have input on Richmond’s eligibility. Attempts to reach both offices late Monday were unsuccessful.

Jennifer Agresta, Richmond’s guardian, chose not to comment on the matter Monday. Attempts to reach interim school superintendent Melinda Young were unsuccessful.