CALAIS, Maine — An altercation between two Calais High School girls basketball players during a recent game is believed to have sparked a controversy that prompted the superintendent of schools to tender his resignation, after the school board reduced his disciplinary action against the players.
Two persons who attended the Blue Devils’ Jan. 10 game at Houlton independently verified the altercation, which reportedly began as an exchange of obscenities between the teammates and ended with a volunteer assistant coach — and wife of the Calais head coach — being pushed by one of the players involved.
Upon learning of the incident, Calais High School officials launched a 3½-day investigation into the incident that involved numerous interviews of players, coaches and others who were at the game.
After the investigation, superintendent Robert F. Moholland, in concert with Calais High School principal Matt Clark, athletic coordinator Randy Morrison and girls varsity basketball coach Dana Redding reportedly dismissed one player from the team and issued a lesser suspension for the second player.
The names of the Calais players involved in the incident have not been released.
The penalty issued to one of the players was appealed to the Calais School Committee, which held an emergency meeting about the matter on Jan. 14, while the Calais girls basketball team was in East Sullivan for a road contest against Sumner Memorial High School.
The school committee voted to reduce the penalty, allowing the player who had been dismissed from the team to return to the squad after serving a suspension, which is believed to be two games.
That sparked consternation within the community, which intensified after Moholland, who also serves as director of the St. Croix Regional Technical Center in Calais, announced his resignation as superintendent six days later at a Jan. 20 school committee meeting.
Moholland, a native of the area who had been hired as superintendent just last April, cited personal reasons for his resignation, which takes effect July 1.
School committee Chairman Bob Greenlaw declined to speak Friday about the board’s decision to reduce the original penalty.
“I can’t comment any further on that,” he said.
Paul Cavanaugh, the father of a Calais girls basketball player not involved in the incident, was sitting in the first row of bleachers behind the Blue Devils’ bench for the Jan. 10 game at Houlton.
Cavanaugh, who recently became an assistant district attorney for Kennebec County after serving in a similar capacity for Washington and Hancock counties for more than 20 years, had a close-range view of the proceedings when tempers flared near the bench midway through the fourth quarter.
“Two of the girls on the Calais team were upset with each other,” said Cavanaugh, who was among those interviewed during the school administration’s investigation. “After a timeout one took the floor and one stayed on the bench, they exchanged some words and the kid on the bench gave the kid on the floor the finger. It was, I think, unseen by a lot of people but the kid it was aimed at saw it. The girl on the bench didn’t stand up and flip her the bird, she held it in front of herself and gave her the finger.
“The girl on the floor then lost her mind, she started screaming [obscenities].”
Cavanaugh said a nearby game official heard the verbiage and called a technical foul.
Cavanaugh said Calais volunteer assistant coach Laverne Redding then approached the player on the court who had been issued the technical foul in an effort to calm the situation.
“I didn’t see her touch the kid but I understand she put her hand on the kid’s forearm,” recalled Cavanaugh. “The kid just ripped her hand away and shoved Laverne and screamed another [obscenity] and then turned around and ran out of the gym.”
Cavanaugh emphasized that no one from Houlton — which pulled away in the second half for a 65-44 victory — had anything to do with the incident.
“It was all internal,” he said.
Laverne and Dana Redding weren’t immediately available for comment Saturday after a voicemail was left on their home phone, but Clark said Laverne Redding has since left her volunteer coaching post of her own accord.
“She was not terminated,” Clark said.
Dana Redding declined Friday to discuss specifics of the case.
“I think at this time it’s best not to say too much,” the Blue Devils’ head coach said. “Maybe at the end of the season.”
A second spectator at the game, someone not associated with Calais High School but who did not want to be identified, offered a description of events at the game similar to what Cavanaugh witnessed, adding tempers also had flared between the two players earlier in the contest.
Clark, the Calais principal, declined to discuss specifics of the case, citing student confidentiality.
“When personnel and students are involved, it’s private,” he said. “We’re not going to give out student information and we’re not going to give out employee information, and an employee could be a coach, teacher, volunteer coach, administrator or anybody who has anything to do with the school.”
The defending Class C state champion Calais girls basketball team was ranked fifth in the Eastern Maine Class C Heal points as of Saturday afternoon with an 11-2 record. The Blue Devils are scheduled to play next on Monday night at Narraguagus of Harrington.