Danvers High School hockey needs a dose of sunshine
Boston Globe Opinion
By The Editorial Board – Updated November 8, 2021, 6:12 p.m
Its ‘Lord of the Flies’ locker room shows a failure of adult supervision.
If sunshine is indeed the best disinfectant, then it’s high time Danvers school officials aired out the high school hockey team locker room and let the rest of the community in on how badly the adults who should have been in charge failed the young people in their care.
Over the course of 16 months — and three investigations — school officials of that North Shore community continue to play hide-and-seek with the facts, forcing parents and potential student athletes to guess at whether an athletic program tainted by racism, sexism, homophobia, and antisemitism has changed.
The community has been kept largely in the dark even about the investigative reports, heavily redacted copies of which were obtained by the Globe following a six-month-long public records battle.
And without full disclosure of what went wrong during that 2019-20 season, there can be no “teachable moments,” and no confidence that those who have spent the past year trying to keep a deplorable situation under wraps have learned anything in the process.
The first investigation was launched by high school officials after spectators complained that three senior members of the hockey team, riding in a Jeep at the head of the school’s pandemic-induced rolling graduation parade, shouted racial slurs at Black sanitation workers they encountered en route.
What that probe turned up was a vivid account of a “Lord of the Flies” locker room where “Gay Tuesday” — where players allegedly stripped naked and ran around in the dark touching each other — was a regular event. So too was “Hard R Fridays” — where some players were allegedly commanded to shout the n-word. Failure to do so, according to the account, could get a player targeted with a sex toy, nicknamed “The Pink Dragon,” held to his face long enough to make an indentation.
The public body of evidence of the allegations includes the yearbook profiles of three seniors who listed “G Tuesday” and “R Friday” among their interests and activities. A senior hockey player also listed the “Pink Dragon” as part of the “class will,” bequeathing it to a younger player.
But unlike in “Lord of the Flies,” there were supposed to be responsible adults in charge in Danvers — especially in the locker room.
“Athlete-to-athlete problems, such as sexual abuse, bullying, harassment or hazing, often occur when a coach or other responsible adult is not in a position to observe — this is especially true in locker rooms,” reads USA Hockey’s locker room policy, which requires “proper supervision” at all times. (This organization is the national governing body for US amateur ice hockey and certified the Danvers head coach.)
One player interviewed by investigators and by the Globe told of an assistant coach walking in during the lights-out naked ritual only to be told it was “Gay Tuesday.” He reportedly said, “I don’t want to know,” turned off the lights again and walked out. The assistant coach denied the incident to investigators.
The head coach at the time, Stephen Baldassare, a former Danvers High athlete and longtime member of the local police department, also denied any knowledge of the locker room activities, although in a letter to “DHS Hockey Families,” he wrote, “I have learned from this experience and we will focus on creating a positive, supportive, respectful, and inclusive team environment for seasons to come.”
In July, however, the school system posted the head coaching job, and Superintendent Lisa Dana announced Baldassare had resigned. Certainly anyone who was part of the coaching staff at the time should follow. Willful blindness is never a desirable quality in a coach.
Dana’s announcement of Baldassare’s departure and a statement issued to the Globe about continuing “to move forward as an equity seeking district” is about as transparent as she has gotten to date.
Meanwhile, around the country and around this state, parents are demanding a greater role in the education of their children, demanding to be better informed, particularly when it comes to student safety. They will not be mollified by platitudes — nor should they be. And they are certainly entitled to a full accounting not just of how things went wrong but also how a toxic environment will be fixed.
It will rest with newer members of the School Committee, like Robin Doherty, to make sure that comes to pass.
“Transparency is the key to trust,” Doherty told the Globe. “In order to learn from these events and ensure they never happen again, we must be open with our community.”
That’s part of her mandate now. It would be even better if she got the support of her colleagues in the effort.