By John D'Onofrio
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — MIDDLEPORT — Allegations that a varsity girls basketball player was “bullied” recently by teammates in the locker room has resulted in a veteran coach's firing and the suspension of some players at Royalton-Hartland High School.
Roy-Hart School Superintendent Kevin MacDonald emphasized on Thursday that the Jan. 18 incident, which he termed “extremely sensitive,” was one that could not be ignored by Roy-Hart administrators. Confirmed was the firing of Don Baker as varsity girls basketball coach and the suspension of “some” players on the team for an unspecified amount of time. MacDonald declined further details due to the sensitivity of the incident and the age of those involved.
“There was an incident that did occur with the girls basketball team that's been hard on the district and on everyone involved,” MacDonald said.
Sources close to the Union-Sun & Journal said the Roy-Hart matter involves a locker room incident in which some sort of attack was waged on a teammate who has learning disabilities. Neither MacDonald, nor any district officials would confirm that report.
On Jan. 18, Roy-Hart's Lady Rams played a girls basketball game at Barker High School, where the alleged incident — which was also allegedly recorded on a cell phone — took place.
The incident came to light when a teammate who witnessed the event discussed it with her coach and school board president Patricia Reigle, who reported it to MacDonald the night it happened. When Baker, a popular district coach for 30 years, did not report the incident the following week to his superiors, as required by law, he was fired, Reigle said.
“I'm a mandated reporter as an administrator. If someone came up to me and reported (for example) that someone got raped in a bathroom, by law I have to tell someone,” she said. “(The incident) happened on a Friday night, Monday was Martin Luther King Day, a holiday, and Tuesday, when it wasn't reported to the superintendent, (MacDonald) acted. People have to understand that it can't be ignored. It's the law.”
Baker, who according to school board meeting minutes was to earn $7,903 as varsity head coach, could not be reached for comment. He has been replaced by junior varsity coach John Grzmala
Reigle also said that as a result of this incident, there will be a female chaperone placed in the girls' locker room for all future girls games involving teams that have a male Roy-Hart coach.
Prior to the start of the basketball season, Roy-Hart, like most area school districts, has its student-athletes sign contracts pledging not to smoke, drink, do drugs or bully anyone.
“Whether it's bullying, hazing, cyber bullying, I won't get into, but there's been a significant emphasis placed on these types of things. This past summer, New York state passed the Dignity for All Students Act — a significant event in getting that legislation passed being the Jamey Rodemeyer incident.”
Rodemeyer, a 14-year-old Williamsville North freshman, committed suicide in September 2011 after being bullied at school by classmates. The incident, which gained international attention, resulted in the state's new legislation being passed in less than a year.
“Laws and policies have changed which puts more emphasis on reporting incidents of this type. It isn't just who witnessed it anymore, it's even if you suspect it,” MacDonald said. “Our culture hasn't caught up yet to the importance of this issue and the importance of taking action to stop these types of things from happening.”
MacDonald said as part of the investigation, every girls basketball player on the Roy-Hart team was interviewed, as well as parents and other school officials.
“Moving forward, the district will also provide further training to provide additional tools for the team to avoid similar things from occurring in the future,” MacDonald said.
“Roy-Hart Central Schools takes these incidents seriously, especially in light of recent similar such incidents and the newly-enacted Dignity for All Students Act, which went into effect in July of 2012. The district is appreciative of the cooperation it's received in the course of this investigation and hope we can put this behind us and the team is able to finish out its season.”