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High School Sports

Independent investigator’s report points to lapses in Woburn football assault case

Woburn Memorial High School.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

An inexperienced and ill-trained volunteer assistant football coach failed to inform his supervisors at Woburn Memorial High School after a 14-year-old freshman player, Johnathan Coucelos, reported last fall that he was jumped by teammates in a locker room, according to an independent investigator’s report obtained by the Globe.

The 60-page report includes statements by Chase Andrews, the first-year volunteer assistant who was 23 at the time, and head freshman coach Chris Scichilone that they were not formally trained about hazing before Coucelos was accosted.

The Woburn case is one of numerous violent incidents in high school sports over the last year that have captured the attention of government officials, civil rights groups, and student safety organizations.

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While arraignments have begun in Lowell Juvenile Court for seven Woburn students, including five football players, charged with assaulting Coucelos, his parents say the report underscores that Woburn school officials — head football coach Jack Belcher, athletic director Jim Duran, and principal Jessica Callanan, among them — failed to adequately protect their son.

What’s more, the family says, no school employee has publicly accepted responsibility for the trauma, while the students answer to criminal charges. All seven face single counts of assault and battery, while one also is charged with indecent assault and battery for allegedly grabbing Coucelos’s genitals.

The Globe does not identify victims of alleged sexual assaults unless they give their consent.

“Woburn likes to cover things up,” said Kevin Coucelos, Johnathan’s father and a lifelong resident. “But all these adults need to go.”

Andrews is gone. He left his job as a paraprofessional at the Woburn school in April.

Callanan is leaving after the school year to become the director of academic achievement at Reading Memorial High School.

Belcher, who with Callanan hired Andrews in 2021, remains, as does Duran, who supervises the football coaches and also is considered responsible for player safety.

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“It’s shocking that there still have been no repercussions for anyone in the athletic department,” said Peter Hahn, the Coucelos family’s attorney.

Attempts to reach Belcher, Duran, and Andrews were unsuccessful.

Callanan said in an e-mail, “I can reaffirm that I acted appropriately throughout my handling of the family’s claims and that much of the information provided to you to date, and which you have printed, is inaccurate.”

Asked to cite an inaccuracy, Callanan did not respond.

Woburn School Superintendent Matthew Crowley issued a statement saying Coucelos was “unjustly assaulted by other members of the football team.” He wrote that Woburn is “committed to providing enhanced training for athletic staff to ensure safe participation in athletics for all of our students.”

Crowley maintained that Woburn’s football coaches “were aware of the prohibitions against bullying and hazing prior to the school year. They explicitly and repeatedly informed the players of those prohibitions both prior to and subsequent to the [attack].”

Crowley’s assertion appears contrary to head freshman coach Chris Scichilone’s statement in the investigative report that “training related to hazing or Title IX only occurred after the incident” and Andrews’s statement that he “did not receive any formal training with respect to hazing until after the incident.”

Johnathan Coucelos, with his family: from left, mother, Jeanny, brother Jaxon, Johnathan, sister, Karmen, brother Jacob, and father, Kevin.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

There is no indication in the report that the investigator, Patrick Hanley, a former state and county prosecutor, asked Belcher, Duran, or Callanan about the purported lack of training.

Coucelos, fearing for his safety, has transferred to Cambridge Matignon School. A Woburn school psychologist’s evaluation states he suffers from “post-traumatic stress disorder, causing him significant symptoms of anxiety and depression,” due to the violence he endured.

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“He’s suffering, and we’re trying to bring him back to normal, but it’s going to be very hard,” said Kevin Coucelos, who with his wife, Jeanny, has four school-aged children. “It’s hard on all of us.”

Hanley presented his investigative findings to Carl Nelson, a Woburn middle school principal designated as the decision maker for a federally mandated Title IX review of Coucelos’s sexual misconduct complaint.

Nelson concluded Coucelos was indeed assaulted and groped in the locker room. But conflicting witness statements prevented Nelson from establishing who groped Coucelos, he stated. Nelson also determined the groping did not meet the narrow definitions of sexual misconduct under the Title IX law.

Hanley found “the team assault was planned, organized, and executed by a substantial number of sophomore players.” One player said he punched Coucelos multiple times after the sophomores — “like 30 kids” — decided “to beat up Johnathan.”

“No one was against it,” Hanley described the player as saying.

Belcher, as the head coach, is responsible for the program’s culture, according to specialists in student-athlete safety. Unlike Callanan, who told Hanley she “feels terrible for Johnathan,” Belcher expressed less empathy, saying he was aware of Coucelos before the attack in a negative way, as a “pain in the neck” or “wise-guy.”

Belcher told Hanley he had left the building before the incident. The remaining coaches reported hearing nothing unusual from their offices near the locker room, despite the loud commotion, which numerous players recorded.

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Andrews, a 2020 graduate of Endicott College, indicated his football experience was limited to Pop Warner and high school. He told Hanley he took no action after Coucelos reported he was jumped because he saw no visible injuries and “no need to pry further.”

The Coucelos family accused school officials of putting the football team’s interests ahead of student safety with their disciplinary measures. Two players were suspended from school for two weeks over the incident, but while one quit the team, the other continued playing football during his suspension, the family said. And several players who face criminal charges remained on the team through a prestigious Thanksgiving game at Fenway Park and continue participating in offseason workouts.

The investigation found Coucelos also was assaulted in his Spanish classroom by a former football player who accused him of snitching and was punched in a school bathroom by a student who chided him for not defending himself more forcefully during the locker room assault.

Coucelos alleged he also was punched by another student on a school bus, but the investigation determined Coucelos himself was the aggressor.

The family, meanwhile, is asking a judge to review a Woburn District Court clerk magistrate’s decision to reject applications for criminal complaints against Callanan and Woburn Detective Edward Fumicello, the school resource officer, for allegedly allowing video surveillance footage of the hallway outside the locker room and coach’s offices to be deleted after they viewed the recording, despite an ongoing investigation.

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The family also asked Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association to take action against Woburn school officials for allegedly violating MIAA rules on hazing, fighting, and sportsmanship, among others. The MIAA rejected the request, saying it does not investigate “internal complaints” involving member schools.


Bob Hohler can be reached at robert.hohler@globe.com.