SALAMANCA - Defense was Charles T. "Chuck" Crist's specialty when he wore a football uniform in New Orleans, New York and San Francisco, but the most successful defense of his life was completed Tuesday when what he calls a long journey came to an end.
After being placed on administrative leave more than four years ago, Crist reclaimed his seat as the principal of Salamanca City Central School's Seneca Elementary School, ready to move forward.
"When we are born, we are given a name and it is ours to protect," Christ said in a statement released to the media. "Our parents educate us to respect and to protect our names because, when all is said and done, our good name is really all we have. That is what I instilled in my son and daughter, and now my grandchildren; it is what I will continue to teach my students - and it is good to have my own good name back."
Crist, the former professional defensive back, was escorted from his office in the Seneca Elementary School building by then-superintendent, J. Douglas Hay, on Nov. 12, 2009. On Feb 10 of this year, a 110-page decision was finally handed down by the appointed hearing officer in the case, Douglas J. Bantle. The decision cleared Crist of all charges, calling for the expunging of any wrongdoing from his record as a school administrator. Nine days later, as was recommended by the New York State Department of Education, the Salamanca City Central School District, under guidance of Superintendent Robert J. Breidenstein, chose to accept the decision without appeal, reinstating Crist effective Tuesday.
A process that takes as long as Crist's exoneration can take a toll on the emotional health and well being of an individual.
"It has been an emotional and trying ordeal, to say the least," he said. "Unless someone has traveled this same path, it is impossible to understand the pain and frustration."
With some of the same faces within the district that were part of his departure, Crist said he is back in his position to do his job as an administrator, and as a role model for the children under his care.
"There is an old Chinese proverb which says, 'Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.' I choose to focus my energy on tomorrow and not yesterday," he said. "I have come to the conclusion that in the best interest of the community, the students and faculty, that we move on and stop playing the blame game. Nothing positive can be gained by animosity and finger-pointing."
How can a person that has spent the better part of the last four years trying to protect his name move forward in a climate that could carry so much negativity? Crist said it is on his shoulders.
"I will work diligently to restore and justify the community's confidence in me and in our school system, to support all staff and to spend the remaining years of my career doing what I love best - educating our students," he said.
Crist takes his position back in a new setting, however. At the close of the 2012-13 school year, the Seneca Elementary Building where he once controlled the helm was cleared out in favor of a potential sale to the Seneca Nation of Indians.
"It has been quite an experience in the new building," he said. "It's going to take some time getting used to where all the classes are. It's a larger area than we had (in the Seneca Elementary building). I have been getting the lay of the land and the staff has been more than cooperative in making sure everything goes together."
His name again sound, according to the eyes of investigators. His record once again clean, Crist said he needs to thank a few people on his journey to restoring what he so deeply wishes to protect.
"I thank my family, my many friends and most of all, my wife of 43 years, Patti, for her understanding, love, and diligence in researching the information to prepare my defense and help salvage my name and reputation," he said. "No man can ask for more unconditional support from family, friends and community members than I have received these past four years, and there are no words to express my gratitude.
"As of Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, my name is Chuck Crist and I am, once again, the principal of Seneca Elementary School," he concluded. "Obviously, I was a bit apprehensive in coming back, but everything is settling back into place. We are back in the saddle and ready to close out the year."