A prominent girls’ ice hockey coach in Central Massachusetts has been suspended by the US Center for SafeSport, marking the 14th time a person involved with youth ice hockey in Massachusetts has been disciplined for sexual misconduct after investigations by SafeSport or USA Hockey, the sport’s national governing body.
With the suspension in May of George J. Barrett Jr., the former owner and operator of the Worcester Lady Crusaders, no Olympic development sport in Massachusetts has had more individuals in its ranks sanctioned for sexual misconduct than ice hockey.
Nationally, the only state that has amassed more disciplinary actions for sexual misconduct in youth hockey is Minnesota, with 16. In the rest of New England, four individuals have been punished, two each in Connecticut and Maine.
The high number in Massachusetts has raised questions about the screening, training, and monitoring of coaches, referees, and players by USA Hockey’s state affiliate, Mass Hockey. In all, 11 of the 14 who have been sanctioned in Massachusetts have also been convicted of crimes, including rape, or face criminal charges.
“It’s very unfortunate to see how many young people have been victimized by Massachusetts hockey coaches,” said the young woman who was the target of Barrett’s alleged sexual misconduct. “It is clear that Mass Hockey and SafeSport are not doing an adequate job of screening coaches and holding perpetrators accountable.”
The Globe does not identify victims of sexual misconduct without their permission. The young woman in Barrett’s case is now an honors law student who plays collegiate hockey and aspires to be a federal prosecutor of sex crimes and human trafficking.
Mass Hockey would not publicly discuss the matter, instead issuing a statement defending the organization’s policies and enforcement practices.
‘It is clear that Mass Hockey and SafeSport are not doing an adequate job of screening coaches and holding perpetrators accountable.’
Victim of George Barrett
“Any allegations of misconduct received by Massachusetts Hockey are taken seriously as the safety of Massachusetts Hockey participants is of paramount importance,” the statement said.
Six of the 14 cases in Massachusetts were adjudicated by USA Hockey before Congress established SafeSport in 2017 to sanction sexual misconduct in Olympic sports. USA Hockey forwarded those cases to SafeSport, which posted them on its public disciplinary database.
Barrett, 51, of Westminster, was found by SafeSport to have made non-consensual sexual contact, sexual advances, and sexual comments to the young woman while he was coaching her, beginning in 2017 when he was 48 and she was 18.
Barrett declined to be interviewed by SafeSport investigators. Efforts by the Globe to reach him were unsuccessful.
The athlete he allegedly mistreated participated briefly in the Lady Crusaders program of the New England Girls Hockey League. Barrett then began coaching her privately in his SweedHands personal training business.
In 2019, the young woman received a court restraining order against Barrett after she alleged in a sworn affidavit that he digitally penetrated her through her clothing, as well as sexually harassed her and made numerous requests for sexual favors. In addition, according to the alleged victim and SafeSport’s findings, he sent her photos of his genitalia.
She also alleged in the court document that Barrett, after their relationship deteriorated, sent her threatening messages, including an image of a body bag, and told her he “could make anyone’s death look like a suicide.” She stated she feared for her safety.
The Worcester district attorney’s office chose not to prosecute Barrett, to the distress of the young woman and her parents. The alleged victim and her family said the police and DA’s office indicated to them that they did not believe they had sufficient evidence to proceed.
Barrett sold the Lady Crusaders organization to the Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center in 2019, after the woman filed the SafeSport complaint against him and received the restraining order. The new owners renamed the program the White Hawks.
USA Hockey published a story in 2016 lauding Barrett for creating opportunities for girls in Central Massachusetts to play the sport competitively. Now he is prohibited from participating in any capacity with any Olympic sport for one year.
SafeSport also ordered Barrett to serve three years of probation after his one-year suspension, and to have no contact with his alleged victim over the four years.
The woman decried SafeSport’s punishment as too lenient.
“Honestly, it is on their moral compass if he goes out and preys on another young girl. The system is corrupt,” she said.
She criticized SafeSport for permitting Barrett to continue coaching, with adult supervision, while he was under investigation, “even though I had a restraining order against him because he was sexually harassing me.”
SafeSport records indicate Barrett had no prior history of misconduct and that no one else has come forward with allegations against him.
‘It is on their moral compass if he goes out and preys on another young girl. The system is corrupt.’
Victim of George Barrett
Dan Hill, a SafeSport spokesman, said, “A suspension of any kind sends a message, and it’s something the Center takes seriously . . . If there are reports on an individual who has been suspended previously, the Center will take those seriously as well."
In all, SafeSport’s database lists sanctions against more than 1,500 individuals in the United States, including 43 in Massachusetts. The other Olympic sports in the state with the most people disciplined are USA Swimming (9), US Soccer (5), USA Gymnastics (4), and US Equestrian (4).
Mass Hockey is one of the larger youth sports organizations in the state associated with the Olympic movement, typically with more than 55,000 players, coaches, and officials participating. But the Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association, for example, which is affiliated with US Soccer’s national governing body, has about 163,000 registered and affiliated players and adult participants. And the five individuals involved with youth soccer who have been disciplined by SafeSport had ties to programs other than Massachusetts Youth Soccer. Other major youth sports organizations in the state, such as basketball, are not fully affiliated with Olympic governing bodies.
The SafeSport disciplinary list does not include former Duxbury High boys’ hockey coach John Blake, who was fired in April after he was accused in a civil suit of repeatedly raping a male middle-school student in 2006.
Mass Hockey has summarily suspended Blake and forwarded his case to SafeSport. Blake has denied the allegation.
Blake’s alleged middle-school victim, Parker Foley, developed a drug addiction “to escape the mental pain and anguish,” his parents stated in a lawsuit against Blake and the Duxbury Public Schools. Foley died of a drug overdose last year at the age of 27. Late this past week, Blake filed a counterclaim against Foley’s parents, saying they destroyed his reputation with their accusation.
SafeSport’s list also does not include Carl Gray, who founded the Assabet Valley girls’ hockey program and was accused by numerous former players in Globe stories in 2020 of making crude comments about their bodies, initiating unwanted physical contact, and entering their locker rooms without notice.
One former player, Estey Ticknor, told the Globe that Gray initiated a sexual relationship with her while he was coaching her in 1981, when she was 17 and he was 43. She reported the allegation to SafeSport, which informed her in October after a preliminary investigation that it could not proceed because the alleged misconduct occurred when “there were no applicable community standards [law], USA Hockey policy or SafeSport policy in place.”
Gray has denied mistreating his former players. Of Ticknor, he said only, “We were best of friends. I respected who she was.”
USA Hockey assigned a five-member investigative committee last August to consider complaints from Ticknor and the parents of former Assabet players about Mass Hockey’s handling of allegations against Gray and other Assabet coaches.
The investigation is ongoing and is expected to be completed this summer, according to USA Hockey spokesman Dave Fischer. He said the process has been delayed by committee members contracting COVID-19.
Several parents who filed complaints called the delay unacceptable.
“We expected action, there was none; we expected follow-up, there was none; we expected communication, there was none," said Fred Isbell, a former Assabet coach whose daughter, Katie, told the Globe last year that Gray made unwanted physical contact with her and sexually charged remarks about her appearance.
The offenders on SafeSport’s disciplinary list include Andrew LeColst, a former ice hockey coach at Masconomet Regional High School who also owned a youth hockey club. LeColst pleaded guilty in 2020 to three counts of raping a girl he coached, beginning when she was 13.
Also sanctioned, in 2018, was Christopher Prew, who operated the Hot Shot hockey academy in Winthrop and faces nine counts in Essex Superior Court of indecent assault and battery on boys under the age of 14. Prew has pleaded not guilty.
A youth hockey referee also was disciplined. Brendan Kessler, of Plymouth, was sentenced in 2015 to 63 months in prison for possession and distribution of child pornography.
All the other hockey figures from Massachusetts on the SafeSport list are coaches, except for a former Braintree High School player who in 2002 pleaded guilty to raping a 15-year-old girl.
Because SafeSport provides no details about the alleged sexual misconduct of those disciplined, information about their cases is generally drawn from news reports. SafeSport’s database also does not disclose the damage done to the alleged victims.
The database states, for example, only that Robert Richardson, of Dorchester, was permanently barred in 2019 from USA Hockey activities because of sexual misconduct. SafeSport disciplined Richardson after a Globe story in 2017 detailed the emotional trauma that a former professional hockey player, David Gove, suffered because of Richardson allegedly raping him repeatedly as a youth.
Gove’s family and Suffolk County prosecutors said Gove, who won the Stanley Cup in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes, never escaped the anguish of the alleged sexual abuse.
Like Parker Foley, Gove struggled with a drug addiction. He died of an overdose in 2017 at the age of 38.
Many youth sports organizations are affiliated with a national governing body affiliated with the US Olympic and Paralympic Movement, such as USA Hockey, US Soccer, USA Swimming, and USA Track & Field. If you have experienced abuse or misconduct by someone in the US Olympic and Paralympic Movement — or if you have a reasonable suspicion of abuse or misconduct inflicted on, or by, someone in the movement — this link directs you to a reporting form: safesport-i.sight.com/portal
Bob Hohler can be reached at email@example.com.