Bob Baldwin said he went “speechless” when he learned this week about the alleged violent racist and homophobic misconduct by members of the 2019-20 Danvers High boys’ hockey team.
Now, Baldwin, the new executive director of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, is ready to speak out.
Breaking with MIAA history — the organization has long lacked a powerful public voice to campaign against abuses in high school sports — Baldwin said in an interview that he plans to take a strong stand to promote civility and the safety of student-athletes, after a series of alarming incidents in his first weeks on the job.
The Danvers case ranks among the most egregious. A hockey player told police and school officials he was twice victimized in the all-white team’s rituals, once when he was beaten for refusing to shout a racial epithet, the other when the team stripped naked in the dark and he was touched inappropriately.
“I know this is a real bold statement, but we need to intervene immediately,” Baldwin said. “I’ve lived by a quote someone taught me: ‘You can’t wait another day in the life of a child.’ ”
Baldwin, the former superintendent of the Fairhaven public schools, cited a dizzying cycle of behavioral dysfunction, beginning two weeks after he succeeded longtime executive William Gaine Jr. in the MIAA’s corner office.
On Sept. 7, in the North Shore community of Georgetown, the high school’s football game against Roxbury Prep was cut short when a melee broke out. Roxbury Prep coaches said that their predominantly Black and Hispanic players had been repeatedly taunted with racial slurs by Georgetown players, faculty, and staff.
Several parents of Georgetown players denied the allegations, and a special investigator hired jointly by Georgetown and Roxbury Prep has launched an independent inquiry.
“This incident is not the first of its kind, and sadly, will not be the last,” Baldwin wrote after the allegations surfaced to members of the MIAA and the Massachusetts Secondary School Administrators’ Association, which he also leads.
Indeed, on Oct. 16 in Hyannis, Boston’s Cathedral High School was playing football against Saint John Paul II School when players on the Cape Cod team allegedly directed racial slurs at their opponents.
Saint John Paul II officials called the allegations “deeply troubling,” suspended on-field football activities, and forfeited an Oct. 22 game against Holbrook-Avon. The team returned to the field Oct. 29 in a 36-6 loss at Brighton.
“Racism is a moral evil that has no place in our society,” the school said in a statement.
Less than three weeks after the Hyannis incident, the Upper Cape Regional Tech football team was playing Southeastern Regional Vocational Tech in South Easton when some Southeastern players and coaches allegedly taunted and shouted obscenities at the opposing team.
“This behavior is unacceptable, disappointing, and goes against our core values,” Southeastern School Superintendent Luis Lopes said.
Southeastern forfeited its next game, Nov. 12, against Shawsheen Valley Tech, and head coach Dominique Williams, a former Brockton High and Boston College star, resigned.
Baldwin took over at the MIAA only months after a special investigator found that Duxbury High School’s football team used Holocaust-related language such as “Auschwitz” to call plays during games, and used terms such as “gas chamber” and the names of serial killers to call plays during practices.
In late October, Baldwin was stunned to learn that adults attending a Franklin School Committee meeting had heckled a gay student who was trying to address the board about being bullied at school. And he was further dismayed Nov. 4, when a student violently attacked the principal of the Henderson Inclusion School in Boston, causing her to be seriously injured and hospitalized.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “We had this grandiose idea that we were coming back to something that was [similar to life before the pandemic]. But, no, there is a lot of trauma that took place somewhere along the way, and students have watched the behaviors of adults in the world we live in, and their behaviors reflect that. We need to somehow step in and fix it.”
The MIAA serves about 375 high schools statewide. A nonprofit funded mostly by taxpayers through school membership fees, the association is known mainly for managing postseason tournaments and enforcing rules that govern competition.
Over time, the MIAA has developed programming to improve the culture of high school sports. But its leaders have generally stayed on the sidelines when the most troubling incidents of hazing, bullying, and racial unrest have occurred.
No longer, according to Baldwin.
“It’s like turning an aircraft carrier around a little bit,” he said, “but I’d like to make the MIAA more supportive and service-oriented to our members and not so regulatory.”
However, unlike the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League, which banned a school’s students from attending games after they chanted obscenities at an opposing team’s female player, Baldwin does not envision the MIAA sanctioning schools or student-athletes for the kind of recent improprieties.
“As a former superintendent, principal, and coach myself, I am highly reluctant to burden schools and districts with yet another layer of bureaucracy and compliance, especially when they are struggling through such difficult circumstances in their communities,” he wrote in October to MIAA members.
But Baldwin backed the MIAA instructing schools this fall to promote civility by starting to require all student-athletes, coaches, and athletic directors each year to take the National Federation of High Schools’ online course, Implicit Bias, and to sign the MIAA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Pledge.
He said he knows challenges loom, with more troubling incidents certain to occur. But he indicated he is poised to confront them and recognizes the power of public advocacy.
“We can’t give up,” Baldwin said. “We have to accept nothing less than the best because our kids are watching us.”
Bob Hohler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.