By John D’Onofrio
A veteran Royalton-Hartland High School girls basketball coach has been suspended and several players have been suspended following a reported bullying incident.
Roy-Hart School Superintendent Kevin MacDonald emphasized on Thursday that the Jan. 18 incident, termed “extremely sensitive,” was one that could not be ignored by Roy-Hart administrators. Confirmed was the suspension 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 told the Lockport Union Sun & Journal the 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.
The incident happened when the Roy-Hart Lady Rams played a girls basketball game at Barker High School on Jan. 18. It was also reportedly recorded on a cell phone.
When Roy-Hart administrators and district attorneys caught wind of the alleged attack, they took immediate action, MacDonald said. Baker's failure to report the incident resulted in his dismissal, MacDonald said.
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 suspended, Reigle said.
“I'm a mandated reporter as an administrator. If someone came up to me and reported that someone got raped in a bathroom, by law I have to tell someone,” she said. “It happened on a Friday night, Monday was Martin Luther King Day, a holiday, and Tuesday, when it wasn't reported to the superintendent, he acted. People have to understand that it can't be ignored. It's the law.”
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 games involving teams that have a male Roy-Hart coach.
Added MacDonald, “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 of 2011 after being bullied at school by classmates.
“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.”