Nauset Hockey Parents Frustrated With School's Silence While Fired Coach Locke Considers Litigating

By: Brad Joyal

Topics: School Sports , Hockey

Former Nauset boys hockey coach Drew Locke addresses the team last winter. BRAD JOYAL FILE PHOTO

The details surrounding Nauset boys hockey coach Drew Locke’s mid-February firing are becoming more clear, after the Warriors’ season ended March 9 following a 7-1 loss to Lynnfield in the second round of the Division 3 state tournament.

While Locke’s Hyannis-based attorney Bruce Bierhans said the coach is considering whether he will file charges against the school, Nauset hockey parents are growing increasingly frustrated by the lack of communication from school administrators in the wake of their decision.

“The kids staged protests and staged these statements and have received nothing from the administration over this,” said Marc Howard, a Yarmouth Port resident and father of Aaron Howard, a sophomore forward on the team. “They took the word of one individual and didn’t even listen to the majority of the team. It’s baffling — I wish they could communicate and explain things.”

Multiple parents described the events that took place inside Nauset’s locker room following the team’s 4-1 victory over Barnstable on Jan. 12 at Charles Moore Arena.

According to what they have been told by their sons who were inside the locker room, parents said the incident allegedly began with one player acting in an immature manner while standing behind coach Locke during the postgame celebration.

When Locke turned around to address the player, the player retreated backwards and allegedly tripped over equipment on the crowded locker room floor, according to parents.

Although multiple parents indicate Locke then reached out to aid the player from falling, the player’s parents, according to Bierhans, allege that Locke instead shoved the player to the ground.

“The student fell back, Drew reached for the student and, in fact, prevented the student from falling,” Bierhans said. “That is what happened. The allegation that Drew shoved anybody was completely uncorroborated by the investigation.”

The player in question continued to attend practices and games over the course of the next month before Locke was ultimately fired Feb. 10, at which point the player left the team for the remainder of the season.

Bierhans said he recently received Locke’s personnel file and the school’s findings from their investigation, which included a letter from the player's father to school administrators urging them to fire Locke.

“The family insisted that Drew be fired,” Bierhans said of the father’s letter. “Ironically, they threatened legal action against Drew if he was not fired. The threat was that if the school did not terminate Drew, then the family would consider a criminal complaint against Drew.”

As soon as school administrators informed the team that Locke would no longer be coaching, Nauset’s players began showing their displeasure with the decision through what they and their parents considered to be peaceful protests.

When the team hosted Martha’s Vineyard on Senior Night two days after Locke’s firing, the Nauset and Vineyard players coordinated a silent protest together. After the referee dropped the puck at center ice to start the game, both teams backed away for roughly 30 seconds instead of going after the puck as they normally would.

Two days later, many Nauset hockey players staged a school walkout on Valentine’s Day that garnered support from roughly 100 students. The players have also worn shirts and made signs since Locke’s firing and many others wrote letters to school administrators expressing how much Locke meant to them and how they were negatively impacted by his firing.

The most recent protest came last week when the majority of the team opted to skip the athletic department’s winter awards ceremony.

Howard, who shared an email he recently sent to school administrators with The Cape Cod Chronicle, said the players’ voices continue to go unheard.

“I feel you missed out on a very significant teaching opportunity,” Howard wrote in his email, which included a subject line that read “A PLEA TO LISTEN AND RESPOND” and was addressed to superintendent Brooke Clenchy, principal Dr. Chris Ellsasser, assistant principals Sean Fleming and Patrick Clark, regional school committee chair Chris Easley, assistant superintendent Keith Gauley and Nauset athletic director John Mattson.

“You could have supported these kids to stand up for a cause that is important to them,” Howard’s email continued. “They have stood up for this cause in a very civil manner. Not only did you not support them, you ignored them just as you have ignored us to this point. The only thing you have taught them is that if someone cries and complains loud enough, they will get what they want.”

Howard isn’t the only parent that feels Nauset’s administrators have failed to communicate with hockey players — and their parents — throughout the past month.

Some parents believe the fact that Locke wasn’t fired until nearly a month after the alleged incident occurred proves he wasn’t a danger to the players.

When asked about the administrators’ response, Julie Norgeot, a Brewster resident and mother of Ben Rose, a junior on the team, said “they broke our trust as parents.”

“If this truly was an allegation where the coach truly could’ve been a threat — and I’ve never, for one moment, felt like he was a threat — where was the administration to say, ‘Hey, we need to let you guys know what’s going on,’” Norgeot said. “And when it all started to break, where was the administration saying, ‘Hey, this is the process we took and this is how we’re going to recover from this.’ They’ve been completely absent.”

The parents who have attempted to contact school administrators said they have received blanket statements saying the school can’t comment on personnel matters.

“We all got the same canned response from the school saying they couldn’t talk to us because it’s a personnel matter,” said Harwich resident Leighanne Smith, whose son, Dan Deering, is a junior on the team. “We weren’t really requesting specifics, just their process — how they came to this decision, what was the investigation?”

In an email asking whether she believes school administrators have provided the hockey players with adequate support in the aftermath of Locke’s firing, Clenchy responded to The Cape Cod Chronicle by stating the school’s staff has worked to support all students.

“Our collective staff continues to work diligently to support all students — our guidance office is available to offer added support wherever, and has done so consistently all year, including this time period,” Clenchy wrote. “They are always reaching out to students, and students consistently reach out to them to connect. It is a solid team. As well, our administrative team connected with a number of players, as they do with all students.”

Clenchy said she is unaware of any letters the players wrote to school administrators to voice their displeasure.

In his email to the administrators, Howard wrote that he assumed they didn’t bother to read the letters, which he said he sent on the players’ behalf.

“Honestly, I find your lack of response to their letters to be reprehensible,” Howard wrote in his email.

In addition to the investigation findings the school turned over to Bierhans, Howard said it’s his understanding that the incident led to an investigation by the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families. He said that the investigation exposed no wrongdoing and shows that the school should have, in his opinion, placed Locke on leave before making a final decision.

“I guess the parents reported this as abuse or neglect, so DCF had to open up an investigation,” Howard said. “DCF came back after interviewing an appropriate number of people and said these concerns are unsubstantiated. So, my question is, gee, why couldn’t that have been done first before firing the guy? Put him on paid administrative leave and then, pending the outcome of the investigation, make a decision.”

Upon receiving Locke’s file and the findings of the school’s investigation, which he described as “completely inadequate,” Bierhans contacted the school’s attorney, Peter Sumners of Braintree-based Murphy, Lamere and Murphy, to see whether the school would instantly reinstate Locke.

“I suggested to him, based on the investigation, that it might be appropriate to reinstate Drew,” Bierhans said. “He did take that to the school, which is his responsibility, and the school said no.”

Bierhans said Locke’s next step from a legal standpoint is to determine whether he’ll pursue legal action against the school.

“It would be a question of damages at this point and whether or not damages arise out of defamation — damage to his reputation — and whether or not there are damages associated with abusing any legal process,” Bierhans said. “Those would be two potential claims that he might consider.”

While all of the parents who spoke to The Chronicle said they were thrilled with the way interim head coach Jake Pickard and the rest of the coaching staff performed in Locke’s absence, they remain hopeful the coach will be able to restore his reputation, which they believe was unfairly damaged.

“What bothers me the most is the school could let one person ruin someone’s whole life and reputation,” Smith said. “That bothers me.”

“My heart goes out to Drew and his family,” added Norgeot. “Just trying to be a young family on the Cape is hard enough as it is, never mind facing such scrutiny.”

Email Brad Joyal at brad@capecodchronicle.com. Twitter: @BradJoyal