STACYVILLE, Maine — It was clear that the majority of the more than 60 people at the RSU 50 board meeting on Monday evening were there in support of Southern Aroostook baseball coach and athletic director Murray Putnam, who was placed on paid leave on May 15.
But the school board will not make additional decisions about Putnam until Monday, June 18, when the embattled coach and his legal counsel will meet with the board during a special meeting at Southern Aroostook Community High School in Dyer Brook. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the library.
More than 60 people jammed the cafeteria at Katahdin Elementary School during Monday night’s school board meeting. Before the meeting, the board decided that only the five individuals who contacted them would speak to avoid repetition from attendees.
While Interim Superintendent John A. Doe has not indicated why Putnam was placed on leave, speakers made references to inappropriate pictures that were posted online after the annual preseason spring baseball trip to Boston. Speakers and some community members indicated that they believed the photos may have included possible instances of hazing.
Putnam is not suspected of any involvement but as head coach he has oversight responsibilities for the team. Players involved in the incident reportedly have been disciplined.
Putnam’s 44-year coaching tenure includes nearly 480 victories and five state championships.
Speakers repeatedly praised Putnam, calling him a man of high moral character who is compassionate, fair, nonjudgmental and kind. One man said that Putnam’s reputation was being “buried” under accusations and asked the board to “do what is right, not what someone is whispering in your ear.”
Candy Nevers, town manager in Smyrna and Merrill, said that Putnam has influenced countless young lives. She said that she has heard a lot of feedback from residents who are troubled by his forced leave.
Frank Horton, who also supported Putnam, said that his son was on the Boston trip.
“He did not hear about the situation [in question] until days later,” he said. “So I don’t think the coaches knew.”
He asked the board to let Putnam return to work.
David Gordon, an Oakfield resident and businessman, said that his best summer employees have been students coached by Putnam.
“He teaches them respect, cooperation, loyalty, how to win gracefully and how to lose gracefully and about personal responsibility,” he said.
“Does the record reflect that the issue at hand had been brought to him before?” he asked the board. “If the answer is ‘no,’ there can only be one just outcome … Don’t let this issue be a miscarriage of justice and set a horrible precedent.”
Ken Coville, who also addressed the board, did not discuss his stance on Putnam but said that the board had to take steps to let students and staff know that hazing is inappropriate. He said that single acts by coaches, such as talking to the team prior to the start of the season, could have prevented incidents of hazing that allegedly occurred.
Doe said Tuesday that he could not comment on remarks about hazing, but said that “the district has all of the appropriate policies in place” related to what was discussed at the meeting.”
Dave Moore, who lives in Smyrna, said after the meeting that Putnam never would do anything to harm any youth or the school community. He felt that placing him on leave was unfair.
“I think what happened to him is completely unjust,” he said. “But hopefully what we did tonight was showed the power of the people. Maybe we’ll have some influence.”
Regina Cunliffe, who also attended the meeting, agreed.
“I feel it is an injustice against a gentleman who dedicates his life to youth and to the school community,” she said. “I think this was a bad choice by a few young people. Where does the responsibility begin? With the young people.”
She and Moore also said that they did not believe there was a way to tell whether adults were present when the inappropriate photos were being taken.
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.
He 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.
RSU 50 serves the communities of Crystal, Dyer Brook, Island Falls, Merrill, Oakfield and Smyrna.
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