It’s summertime, but the living ain’t easy, at least for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School committee, whose quorum dissolved Tuesday night when Jeffrey S. (“Skipper”) Manter stormed out of a discussion on chaperones for mixed-gender sports teams and coaches.
His departure followed 30 minutes of public comments by nine past and present MVRHS athletes, all of whom argued that same-sex adult attendants were unnecessary and unneeded in mixed-gender situations like game travel.
Manter’s abrupt departure was not based on the merits of the idea, but on whether, procedurally, the matter could be put to another vote since it was not spelled out as an agenda item. A vote on the issue deadlocked 3-3 at the committee meeting last week.
Member Janet Packer told her colleagues, “I want discussion and I want a vote [tonight].”
At that point, Manter stood up and said, “I can take care of that,” and left the meeting, saying over his shoulder, “I may not be back.” His departure meant the quorum was lost and no vote could be taken.
The issue over same-sex travel attendants flared for the first time at last week’s meeting when Edgartown member Kim Kirk, an attorney and mother of an athlete on a mixed-gender team, advised the board to set a policy to provide maximum comfort for athletes and to avoid liability in a currently litigious environment around abuse of athletes.
There have been no reports of inappropriate behavior by coaches or athletes, nor have the busy social networks reported rumors of bad behavior.
But the student-athlete community became aware of the controversy through press reports and social networks, and they self-organized to be heard on Tuesday. Kylie Hatt (MVRHS 2017) Addy Hayman, Meghan Sonia, Mackenzie Condon, Abby Marchand, and Katherine and Elizabeth O’Brien attended, and delivered messages from two other athletes.
In addition, MVRHS coaches Mike Joyce (boys basketball) and John Fiorito (girls hockey) addressed the committee, largely in agreement with their student athletes.
Kylie Hatt said when she heard about the chaperone plan, “I was confused about why this is happening, and whether anything had happened. I have played hockey my whole life, been the only girl on an all-male team, and I have never felt uncomfortable or had an issue.
“We form bonds, connections, with our coaches. An outsider stepping in doesn’t have the same bond. Have a female [on the bus]? What does that teach us? That you need a female to live your day? And after school, when you have a male boss, what do you do? I have a lot of questions,” she said.
Addy Hayman is a standout lacrosse player. “We have a male athlete on our team and a female coach he says is as good a coach as he’s had, male or female. Coaches are our teachers on field. You wouldn’t have math taught to us by a female teacher. The best coaches I’ve had all had the same qualities: commitment, dedication, intensity, and energy. I don’t think about them as female or male.”
“The intent is good, but I’m not sure this is the way to do it,” said Mike Joyce, now boys varsity basketball coach. In his 20-plus years here, Joyce has coached male, female, and mixed-gender teams.
“I’ve thought a lot about the necessity for and the repercussions of this policy. The safety and comfort of students is most important. Where would the impact of mixed-gender teams be likely?” Joyce said. “The nature of a trip makes it least likely for uncomfortable situations. With regard to changing on the bus, with onboard cameras and passing traffic, that’s not optimum. Kids can change on the boat or at the school to which you’re traveling. Having coached both genders, I’ve seen students develop a rapport. The coach is the first person they’d go to. Introducing an outsider wouldn’t have the same relationship. It’s not a natural way to address the issue.”
Fiorito said he “struggled with the idea of ‘Who am I to be coaching females?’” when he took over as varsity girls hockey coach. “Nell Coogan [assistant coach] got me over that. This is a unique and noble discussion we’re having here, about what would make a community feel as comfortable as possible. We may be chasing our tails here. I’d hate for the athletic handbook to be held up.”
Both coaches supported continued vetting of the student and parent population with regard to their coaches and their environment.
Following the quorum contretemps, both chairman Kris O’Brien and assistant superintendent Richie Smith apologized to the student athletes for the meeting disarray, and the members set about establishing a new meeting date, tentatively scheduled for 4 pm on August 27.
For the second consecutive week, the MVRHS lost its quorum before several important matters could be put to a vote.
The mixed-gender discussion has sidelined a vote on an proposed athletic handbook separate from the high school’s general student handbook. In anticipation of the separate athletic handbook, high school administrators removed the athletics section from the general handbook, but without committee approval now must readopt language from the 2017–18 handbook.
And the committee has yet to vote on the selection of an owner’s project manager (OPM) for the track and field rebuild. The facilities subcommittee has chosen Daedalus, Inc., as OPM, and scheduled a vote by the full committee several weeks ago.