Girls’ youth hockey pioneer Carl Gray, who helped to make women’s hockey an Olympic sport, has stepped away from the elite Assabet Valley Girls Hockey program he founded, after former players alleged he had long mistreated girls in his program, some as young as 8 years old.
A statement posted Friday on Assabet’s website said Gray has resigned both from the nationally renowned Assabet program, which he has operated in Concord since 1972, and the New England Girls Hockey League, which he also created.
“He will no longer have any involvement with either program’s hockey operations,” the statement said.
The announcement came after a story in Sunday’s Globe detailed the complaints against him.
Gray took issue with the characterization of his departure.
“I didn’t resign,” he said by phone. “I retired.”
The 82-year-old Gray said he had begun the process of transitioning out of his leadership roles before the Globe article appeared. He again denied the allegations, made by more than two dozen former players, and indicated he had no regrets.
“I am who I am,” Gray said.
Massachusetts Hockey, the sport’s governing body in the state, appears to have played a role in Gray’s departure. In a statement, the organization said, “Massachusetts Hockey consulted with senior leadership at the Assabet Valley girls’ hockey program and is aware of the change in management, which includes the resignation of Carl Gray from all youth hockey related roles. We will continue to monitor the program to ensure that they are providing a safe environment and positive youth hockey experience for their members.”
Assabet's statement said the program will create a board of directors to govern the organization in Gray’s absence. The first two board members were identified as Paula Gray and Kelly Souza.
Paula Gray, who is Carl Gray’s daughter-in-law, has for many years helped to manage the program as well as the Valley Arena in Concord, which Carl Gray has long owned.
Souza is an Assabet alum and former Boston College star who in 2015 was inducted in the school’s Hall of Fame. A Dedham native, Souza played at Noble & Greenough and the University of New Hampshire before BC. She coaches the varsity girls’ team at Berwick Academy in Maine.
Additional board positions will be filled going forward, according to Assabet’s statement. Referring to Carl Gray, the statement said, “We are thankful for the many years of dedication and involvement in the development of women’s ice hockey here in Massachusetts, the United States of America, and the world.”
The changes came after former Assabet players, coaches, and parents complained that Gray had for decades emotionally harmed girls with profane verbal abuse, unwanted physical contact, and unannounced instructions into locker rooms while they were in various stages of dress, among other alleged mistreatment.
Mass Hockey had reached a disciplinary agreement with Gray in 2016 after he relieved himself within view of girls at the Valley Arena. He attributed the incident to a severe urinary tract infection.
Gray and his supporters have defended his demanding leadership style as necessary for developing elite athletes. On the ice, Assabet's success is unrivaled. Assabet teams have won 52 national championships, produced more than 300 players who have received college athletic scholarships, and dozens who have been selected for US national teams, including Olympic gold medal winners.
Gray’s detractors, however, say he has hurt an untold number of girls, some into adulthood. Katie Isbell, now a fifth-year journalism student at Northeastern, was the first former player to come forward to the Globe to complain about Gray. She did so after the Globe reported in February that Gray’s top coach in the Assabet program, Dennis Laing, and two assistants had been suspended by Mass Hockey for verbally abusing and bullying girls.
Isbell alleged Gray created the harsh culture that fostered the coaches’ behavior. She recounted an incident in which Gray grabbed her biceps, ostensibly to gauge her strength, told her she would become voluptuous if she continued doing pushups, and asked if her mother was voluptuous. She was 11 at the time.
Isbell said Gray later berated her so severely after a loss that she “never felt so horrible about myself.”
“At 25, I’m still trying to get back my self esteem,” she said in Sunday’s story. “I don’t want to say Carl Gray ruined my life, but I still have nightmares about him.”
When Isbell learned Friday of Gray’s departure for the program, she said she had come forward “because I love hockey and want future generations of girls to love it and not experience what I did.”
She said she was heartened that “things really might be changing” in the program.
“I am surprised that Carl Gray resigned from Assabet,” she said, “but I think it had to happen if things are going to be different going forward.”
Bob Hohler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.