Supporters of suspended Southern Aroostook baseball coach seek input before district board

Southern Aroostook baseball coach Murray Putnam instructs players, including Cody Robinson (left), during a practice in 2008 in Dyer Brook. Putnam has been on paid administrative leave since May 15, and his supporters hope to discuss his suspension with the RSU 50 board of directors Monday night.
Southern Aroostook baseball coach Murray Putnam instructs players, including Cody Robinson (left), during a practice in 2008 in Dyer Brook. Putnam has been on paid administrative leave since May 15, and his supporters hope to discuss his suspension with the RSU 50 board of directors Monday night. Buy Photo
Posted June 08, 2012, at 4:12 p.m.
Last modified June 09, 2012, at 5:39 a.m.

STACYVILLE, Maine — Supporters of embattled Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook baseball coach and athletic director Murray Putnam may get their chance to address the RSU 50 board of directors on the matter during its next regular meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Katahdin Elementary School cafeteria.

Putnam, whose 44-year coaching tenure includes nearly 480 victories and five state championships, was placed on paid administrative leave May 15 amid reports of a possible hazing incident during the team’s annual preseason trip to Massachusetts and the subsequent publishing by players of inappropriate photos on Facebook.

Putnam is not suspected of any involvement but as head coach has oversight responsibilities over the team. Players involved in the incident reportedly have been disciplined.

John A. Doe, RSU 50 interim superintendent, said Putnam remained on paid administrative leave from his two stipend positions as of Thursday, the day the Southern Aroostook baseball team began postseason play with a 12-2 victory over Woodland in an Eastern Maine Class D quarterfinal.

The third-seeded Warriors, now being coached by Robert Betschner, are scheduled to play in a regional semifinal at No. 2 Hodgdon on Saturday.

An estimated 25 to 30 supporters of Putnam — for whom the baseball field at Southern Aroostook is named — attended a special RSU 50 board meeting Monday but left disappointed after not getting the chance to speak about the matter.

Doe said that meeting’s agenda was comprised of two executive sessions, one for the board to consult with legal counsel and the second to discuss a personnel matter. While the first executive session was held, the second — believed to involve the Putnam case — did not take place, according to minutes of the meeting.

A petition has been submitted to Doe seeking an opportunity for members of the public to speak about the Putnam case at the June 11 board meeting.

The agenda for the June 11 meeting already had been established when the petition was submitted, but Doe said the school board at Monday’s meeting will have the opportunity to vote on an adjustment to the agenda that would allow for the public to speak about the Putnam case.

Among Putnam’s supporters who are optimistic they will be able to have their say about the case in front of the board is David Gordon of Oakfield, owner of Katahdin Cedar Log Homes.

Gordon estimates he has hired 160 to 170 Southern Aroostook students for employment over the years, the majority of them student-athletes who have played for Putnam.

“The kind of kids I want to hire for summer jobs are the kids Murray has coached,” said Gordon, himself a former school board member and coach in the area who has two sons who played baseball for Putnam at Southern Aroostook.

“He starts them out at age 5 coaching ‘Murrayball’ in the summer, and he’s a great teacher of baseball but the thing he does best is teach the kids things that will help them become better people. He teaches respect and promptness — which as an employer really makes me happy — he teaches kids to be team players, he teaches them how to win and how to lose and he teaches them to be goal-oriented.

“Those are life skills we all need, and life skills that help the kids he coaches become better adults and better employees.”

Putnam has coached high school baseball in the region since 1968 when he took over the program at the former Oakfield Community High School. When that school and several others were consolidated into Southern Aroostook during the 1970s, he moved to the combined school and has remained there ever since.

Putnam has guided the Southern Aroostook baseball team to 10 Eastern Maine championships and Class D state titles in 1984, 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1999.

Southern Aroostook, which serves the communities of Crystal, Dyer Brook, Island Falls, Merrill, Oakfield and Smyrna, has remained a consistent Eastern Maine Class D contender in recent years, advancing to the regional final in 2008 and the semifinals in 2010, 2011 and again this spring.

Putnam, who has served as the school’s athletic director for the last 39 years, is a 2002 inductee into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame and the recipient of the 2006 State Award of Merit from the Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.

“I see what is going on over there [Southern Aroostook] now,” said Gordon, “and I sincerely hope there won’t be a miscarriage of justice.”

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