YORK — Parents of York High School football team players said this week they want to set the record straight about former coach Randy Small’s behavior at a quarterfinal football game last fall, saying they witnessed a coach who was out of control, swearing and belittling the players. And they say they are speaking out now to set the record straight and in hopes the community can “move forward in a positive way for the kids of York.”
Some 30 York residents, most of whom indicated they were parents of York High football players, gathered Monday night for a meeting they requested with the York Weekly. Of those, 19 people said they attended the quarterfinal game at Fryeburg and 15 indicated they subsequently made either verbal or written complaints to school administrators in the days afterward. Small, who did not plan to return as football coach anyway, was subsequently dismissed as basketball coach. School administrators, citing confidentiality law, have never fully explained why Small was let go. A controversy over the longtime coach, loved by many, has swept the town ever since.
Small, contacted Tuesday morning, stands by his earlier statement that he was not swearing or out of control, and said he would never belittle players.
The parents told a different story. Of those attending the meeting, six agreed to speak on the record, with the rest there to show support for them. Parent Tommy MacDonald said he was speaking for “families afraid to give their names and speak out publicly for fear of having to endure their kids being targeted at school, their businesses adversely impacted or the cyber backlash from the misinformed, manipulated or blindly loyal.”
Just as importantly, said Greg Sheive, they want the people of York to know they are not “‘a small group of basketball parents’ or ‘serial complainers’ that brought forward concerns after the Fryeburg game,” as Small and his supporters have intimated. In fact, said MacDonald, of the 15 complaints received by administrators, only four came from parents whose sons also play on the basketball team.
At issue is a huddle that occurred during the second quarter of the game at Fryeburg, which York High School lost, 41-0. Small said in an earlier interview and again reiterated on Tuesday that he called the huddle because at that point the score was 20-0 and two players had already been injured. He said he was giving the kids a pep talk about taking care of themselves before they went back into action.
Robin Davis said she was in the stands that day with her parents and a couple of friends. She said what she heard was “an expletive-laced screaming to the players. He was screaming the f-bomb. Other players who were not in the huddle were moving away. I was horrified. Nobody stopped it. My mother and father were horrified.”
Like MacDonald, she said she had never complained to any school administrator before but felt compelled to do so in this case.
Derek Grader said he has two sons on the football team, was watching on the sidelines that afternoon and said he was “appalled at the language” Small was using. A retired Marine Corps infantry officer, he said, “I know a little bit about salty language and belittling. He crossed the line. Being on the periphery, I was horrified it came so far. It’s almost as if you have to hit the reset button with your kids. I told my kids, the world really doesn’t work like this. We can all live with a few f-bombs, but as standard operating procedure in football games, it’s not OK.”
The allegations of the parents are “absolutely false,” said Small. “I may be a lot of things but I am not a liar.” His statement was bolstered by that of another parent contacted Tuesday. Jennifer Bracy said she was on the bench tending to her injured son during the huddle and said Small “absolutely did not” swear. “He was very concerned about the players. What he said was nothing out of the ordinary.” Asked how so many parents could have a different recollection, she said, “It’s like being hit with a palm to the forehead. Huh? Was I at the same game?”
But, said Davis, the fact Small calls their statements false by logical extension means she and the other parents are liars. And she takes great exception to that. The group was asked by a show of hands to indicate if they heard Small screaming profanities, and many in the room raised their arms.
MacDonald and several others said they were concerned about the efforts by the pro-Small group Coaches and Kids Matter to recall School Committee member Dick Bachelder. The group charges Bachelder with working to undermine Small, and in particular the fact he coached two varsity teams, football and basketball.
More than one parent asked why the group would take the recall route, and potentially force a special election at a cost to taxpayers, when Bachelder’s term is up in May anyway and they could put up a candidate to run against him.
Coaches and Kids Matter has until Feb. 9 to collect just shy of 900 signatures on the recall petition. Petition organizer Kent Kilgore said Tuesday they are feeling “very optimistic” of their chances of garnering enough support.
“I feel bad for Dick, given the current situation. After tonight, you can see this is not a basketball conspiracy,” said MacDonald. “I’m viewing this as a pound of flesh. And that’s sad. I commend the administration and (athletic director) Andy Wood for their fortitude in this situation. They took our complaints seriously and did not sweep them under the good old boy rug.”
Steve Bricker said he’s concerned the publicity surrounding this situation is going to redound to the integrity of the football program. He said applications are now being taken for head coach for next fall, and he wonders if a highly qualified candidate will choose not to step forward.
“The end result of what is playing out in our town is we are all being painted in a negative light,” he said. “This is unfair to all of us parents. It’s unfair to our student-athletes and especially to any interested candidate for head coach who as a result of what they have read in the press may shy away from this unique opportunity.”
Several parents said they hope the entire incident can be put to rest.
“We hope the community can come together and move forward in a positive way for the kids of York,” said Sheive, “and we are confident this can happen.”
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