Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Update: Andover sends out a letter to parents

On my last blog post, I called for Andover High School to act on the allegations that two students were hazed last summer at a basketball camp. Well, AHS has yet to act officially but they did send out a letter to parents saying that the hazing rules were violated and that action was going to be taken soon.

Rumor is that multiple suspensions are being handed down and potentially 2 expulsions as well. More to come as it becomes official but it sounds like AHS did what was right in the end. Eagle Tribune's outstanding article on the case is here.

Superintendent McGrath wrote to Andover Parents tonight:

A thorough investigation has been completed and submitted to me, and I am saddened to report to 
you that the investigation concluded there were violations of our policies. As a school district, we will now take all appropriate action in accordance with our district policies and state law.  While I fully understand and appreciate that you are legitimately interested in the outcomes for the violations of these policies, I am prohibited by federal and state laws from disclosing information about individual student discipline.  I can tell you, however, that in the case of violations of our anti-bullying and anti-hazing policies, our school district policies permit a range of disciplinary actions which include suspension and expulsion from school.  You have my assurance that I intend to strictly enforce these policies based upon the evidence and to the extent allowed by our policies and laws.  We will address, separately, the involvement of any Andover Public Schools employees in connection with these allegations. 

AD Chris Bergeron to Andover Parents tonight:

After consultation with Superintendent Marinel McGrath and Andover High School 
Principal Thomas Sharkey, I intend to suspend student-athletes from participation in the 
Andover High School 2011-2012 athletic program for varying periods of time due to apparent violations of Andover High School athletic policies and rules. 

Any student-athletes who may be subject to possible suspensions have certain procedural rights which must be honored and I will be following that process. The Athletic Department is committed to the best interests of all student-athletes who participate in its programs and will rigorously protect those interests. As stated in the rules, which apply to all athletic programs, participation in the AHS Athletic Program is a privilege, not a right, and the highest standards of conduct will be enforced.  

I wonder if Mr. Bergeron would have done this if the Bill Burt's story doesn't run? And for the record, Andover learned of this on November 11th. It's November 30th. Better late than never though.

EDIT: This paragraph from the linked article above is identical to what I first wrote about on Sunday. I'm glad my town and I still think alike: The two ringleaders of the hazing were expelled while the others involved received suspensions for an unknown amount of time and will not be allowed to compete in school sports for the remainder of the school year, sources said.

I wrote:  Any player found to have participated in the hazing of the young men on the campus of Stonehill College should be off the basketball team for no less than one year. 

EDIT 2: Ring leaders who are expelled take to Facebook to plan a secret meeting ... not very secret guys. SMH. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Andover High Needs To Act Now

I sent this Op/Ed to my hometown paper - The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune after reading a story that came out yesterday: 

The incident involving the Andover High School basketball team was brought to my attention on Thanksgiving by my brother who is a junior at the school. He asked me if I had heard about the “Ookie Cookie situation” involving the basketball team and what I thought of it.

After hearing the details for the first time, I didn’t know what to think. Older basketball players forcing fellow younger players to eat a semen covered Oreo cookie in a Stonehill College dorm room was enough to make me (want to) vomit up my turkey.

There is no justification for such behavior and there should be zero tolerance of it. Those committing hazing incidents, while unfortunately common these days, have to be handled swiftly and harshly.

Sadly, that has not happen at AHS.

My family has a long history with Andover High including graduating myself, father, mother, stepfather, 2 of my brothers and 11 of my aunts and uncles. I was a varsity athlete as was my stepfather and 2 of my brothers.

I’ve been in those AHS locker rooms and played briefly for AHS head coach David Fazio’s program. As a sports media and broadcasting professional for the past 15 years covering sports at every level (including high school sports for, I have seen this story before.

I’m just sorry to see it happening in my hometown.

The argument being made in defense of Coach David Fazio is that since the crime (and yes, I’m calling it a crime) occurred off school grounds and not at a school sponsored event that, according to a statement from his attorney “Mr. Fazio did everything possible to deal with this 4-month-old situation. This is not a school-related issue."
While that might resolve Coach Fazio from any legal responsibility, it does not excuse the conduct by the student-athletes and does not explain why none of them have been suspended from the basketball team by the school as of yet.
Athletic Director Chris Bergeron needs to explain when exactly he was made aware of the incident and why the players have yet to be suspended from the team. The Easton Police Department opened an investigation but so far, AHS hasn’t done anything besides issue a statement on their website claiming they are investigating the accusations.   
According to the story in the Eagle Tribune, Coach Fazio was made aware of his players’ behavior on November 11th, four months after the fact, but it’s the end of the month and we haven’t heard from AHS officials yet. Why wasn’t there something sent out to parents as soon as the victim came forward?
My mother is the parent of a current student. She has received nothing from AHS on the matter.
The student-athlete who had the courage to come forward has since transferred from Andover High due to the attack, which shows how serious this was. If accounts of Fazio informing the parents of the victim immediately are true, then I believe Coach Fazio did what needed to be done in his position. This did happen during the summer and he did not witness it obviously.
My issue is with the young men who perpetrated the act. There should be an immediate suspension of anyone suspected of being present during the hazing event. Reportedly, 9 AHS basketball players were there. All should be placed on indefinite suspension until an independent investigation can be carried out into what actually happened in that door room. 
If that causes AHS to forfeit the basketball season, so be it. If the Penn State sex abuse scandal has taught us anything is that allowing a sports program to investigate itself is just plain stupid. There is money and power involved in AHS basketball and losing an entire season could hurt the school’s bottom line.
As an alum, I don’t care.
The fact that AD Bergeron hasn’t suspended the players suspected of that attack is extremely troubling. I’m not calling for anyone to lose his or her job … yet. However, an INDEPENDENT investigation must be conducted to find out when the AD and head coach really knew about the incident and what was done with that information.
If it was handled correctly, then we move on to the players themselves.
Any player found to have participated in the hazing of the young men on the campus of Stonehill College should be off the basketball team for no less than one year. It is conduct unbecoming of a student-athlete at Andover High School. It is gross, lewd, and completely unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.
Sports are a privilege, not a right. Even though we are taught to believe that they are bigger than life, in particular at AHS, behavior such of this must be handled with an iron fist. No excuses. 
There is no grey when you are abusing a fellow student. You commit acts like ones being reported, and you lose the privilege to wear the AHS uniform. The integrity of the program is at stake.
I sincerely hope AD Bergeron does what is right and suspends the suspected athletes immediately until an independent body can investigate the accusations against its basketball players.
Right now, the lack of action makes it look like AHS has been caught trying to bury an awful story.  
Matt Perrault is a 1995 AHS graduate and former AHS student-athlete and host of “The Home Team with Matt Perrault” on WGAM “The Game” 900 AM in Nashua, NH and 1250 AM Manchester, NH

EDIT: The camp has been kicked off Stonehill College's campus for lack of protection of young people. The latest: Story is here

EDIT 2: Sadly, Chris Bergeron refused to talk to 

EDIT 3: This is from a dear friend of mine who works in college athletics. His thoughts on this story speak to exactly what AHS is failing to see:
"We often say "there is no 'I' in team."  But this is not accurate--when the team (or protection of the team, or school, or "brand") becomes more important than protecting the rights of the individual, then there should be no team.  A great team is often not comprised of the most talented individuals, but more often comprised of individuals with talent who recognize the value of each member of the team and use those talents--they understand that by improving the conditions of one, they improve the conditions of all.  When you have a team that does not recognize the values of each member (and it appears that this is the case at Andover HS) then you have a severe breakdown of the team concept."