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Norwell principal faults ex-coach

NORWELL — Former boys’ varsity lacrosse coach Chris McGuirk created a “perceived culture of fear and intimidation” in his program and used behavior and language that Norwell High School principal William Fish said was described to him as “demoralizing to kids.”

Also, the youth lacrosse program that McGuirk runs outside school can be perceived as creating a conflict of interest with his role as the school’s varsity lacrosse coach, Fish stated.

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Those are some of the reasons why, according to Fish, the popular coach will not be returning to the helm of the successful program that he ran for four years.

Fish stated his views in a letter he wrote to McGuirk on Oct. 21, several days after their meeting during which McGuirk was informed he would not be reinstated as head lacrosse coach.

McGuirk’s lawyer, Jason Pithie, wrote a letter several days later to Norwell School Superintendent Matthew Keegan countering each point spelled out by Fish. Pithie contended that one or two “disgruntled” parents were the catalyst for McGuirk’s dismissal.

In an interview Tuesday — a day after about 170 people attended a School Committee meeting to call for McGuirk’s reinstatement — Pithie said that if Fish’s concerns were legitimate, they would have been brought to McGuirk’s attention over the past four years — and there would be complaints in his personnel file.

“The things he came up with were completely and utterly false,” Pithie said. “There was not one thing in his personnel file. Not one.”

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“I was never told anything by my superiors other than I was a great coach,” said McGuirk.

Fish said on Tuesday that he could not comment on personnel matters, and referred questions to Keegan. In a phone interview Tuesday, Keegan said the high school “is still continuing the process to hire a new coach.”

Asked if he believed the decision to not reinstate McGuirk would be reversed, Keegan said, “No, I do not.”

Monday evening, McGuirk’s supporters left the School Committee meeting frustrated and angry, saying they had more questions than they did before the session, held in the high school auditorium.

“It didn’t sit well with me,” said Mark Roman, a father of five, after the roughly hourlong portion of the meeting addressing McGuirk’s dismissal. “The School Committee hires the superintendent but has no involvement in the evaluations of his hirings and firings? If our elected School Committee members can’t provide the town with any kind of a response, then that really seems contradictory to the basis of democracy.”

Roman echoed the sentiment of a number of others who took to one of the two microphones set up in the auditorium to voice their support for McGuirk, a Norwell native.

After McGuirk spoke, telling the board that he wants his job back, he was given a long, enthusiastic standing ovation.

On the advice of legal counsel, School Committee members said little. The committee’s lawyer, Michel Long, said the panel primarily sets policy and does not have any say over the hiring of coaches.

With two uniformed police officers standing guard at the back of the auditorium, Long set parameters for the meeting, telling those in attendance that their comments had to be kept to three minutes — and that he had a timer. He said that while school officials were not at liberty to discuss the reasons behind McGuirk’s termination, McGuirk was “free to distribute” the correspondence with school administrators regarding his dismissal.

On Tuesday morning, McGuirk did just that.

Pithie said he is unsure what his client’s next step will be, but he thinks residents will share their disappointment at the polls in the election next May. The two three-year School Committee seats up for election are held by chairwoman Kiersten Warendorf and Brian Noble.

A number of McGuirk’s supporters who spoke at Monday’s meeting referred to his passion for lacrosse, enthusiasm for coaching, and kind, caring interaction with his players.

Paul Abbate, president of the Norwell Boys’ Youth Lacrosse program, told the committee that he and other community residents “believe it makes sense to hit pause, rewind this movie, and start at the beginning.” He asked the committee to conduct a “full review” of McGuirk’s coaching career at Norwell High School and then make an informed decision.

The committee did not agree to review the matter.

“They requested a meeting and, as always, the School Committee was here to listen,” said Warendorf.

Reach Juliet Pennington at writeonjuliet@comcast.net.

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