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Emotional Abuse: Youth Hockey's Dirty Little Secret

Does failure of USA Hockey to lead on issue put kids at risk?

Never the t'wain shall meet

For his part, Norcross and two of his assistant coaches told a different story. Interviewed for a February 10, 2010 story in the Daily Item, they said that the incident simply didn't happen as the twins' parents allege. Norcross vehemently denied throwing the souvenir puck back on the ice (he said he tossed a different puck), denied yelling at Austin on the bench or dressing him down in front of his teammates, denied raising his voice, and denied throwing a bag of pucks at or near Austin's twin brother.

When I attempted to speak to Norcross to comment for this article, I was told that I had caught him at a bad time (he said he was picking up his kids at school), but he promised to call right back. Instead, it was his attorney, Kevin Foley, who called me back less than five minutes later, not to provide any factual information (he refused comment) but to warn me, not once but three times, to "be very careful" in what I wrote. In other words, instead of being helped as a journalist get at the truth, I ended up being bullied.

Other eyewitnesses told varying versions of the incident.  An assistant coach recalled that when the referee came to the bench and asked for a puck after Austin scored the goal he heard Norcross say "You got to be kidding me" and mutter under his breath, "Oh my God, I've been in sports a long time. I'm trying to teach team play and I've never seen that before." He denied that Norcross threw any bags or yelled when the team was in the locker room.

A second assistant coach attacked Holly for allegedly being an overbearing hockey mother who, he claimed, had at times tried to interfere with the way the coaches ran the team (a somewhat testy back and forth of emails between Holly and Norcross early in the season about the twins' playing time at forward and defense, with the benefit of hindsight, likely foreshadowed the fireworks to come).  The coach denied that either Norcross or any other adult yelled at Austin when the referee came over to the bench to ask for a puck to replace the one that Austin had used to score his 200th goal, and he went so far as to suggest that the Fogliettas had made up the story out of whole cloth.  Holly and Bill Foglietta and their sons Austin and William

Unlike his fellow assistant coach, however, he admitted to yelling in the locker room after the game, but said nothing was thrown, and, in a comment which spoke volumes about the culture of youth hockey, chalked up the yelling to the fact that, "We are hockey coaches. Do we yell? Yeah, we do, but it's no different than any other sport. We told them they could have played better."

One mother of a player on the team was brave enough to tell the newspaper that she did hear Norcross screaming at Austin, saying that she noticed that the referee had given the puck to Austin after he scored, and that "when they were going back to center ice ... I could see the referee talking to Bill [Norcross] and that's when I saw Bill pick up the puck and throw it on the ice" and start screaming.

Another mom, according to Holly, said she would have spoken up, but feared - with good reason, as it turned out - retaliation against her son if she did. Whether the mom will, as Holly claims, "have plenty to say after the season is over" remains to be seen.  She declined to be interviewed for this article.

A father of another player recalls seeing Norcross talking to the referee, and, while he didn't hear or see him say anything to Austin, acknowledged that Norcross was an "intense coach" who had been yelling at the referee about calls all through the game. "He yells at the kids when they need to be yelled at, he sits them down when they need to be sat down. I have no problem with any of his tactics," he said.

The wife of a member of the Lynn Youth Hockey (LYH) Board, and vocal supporter of Norcross, told the newspaper that she didn't see or hear any yelling.

Tearful phone call

Holly was in New Hampshire that Saturday morning, but remembers getting a call from Austin around noontime as Bill was driving the twins home from the game in which he tried to explain through his tears what had happened. Austin was crying and so upset, she had a hard time understanding a lot of what he said. Holly then briefly spoke to her husband, who told her about the incident, and said he was taking the boys out for a special lunch to make up for the emotional morning.

The next morning the twins played a game in Ashburnham. Bill Foglietta had been lead to believe by Norcross' assistant coach, Kevin Cassidy, that, after the Saturday game, the coach was in a "bad way", had given him all the equipment and game labels, and told Cassidy he wasn't going to be at the game. Bill Foglietta took the twins to the game only because he didn't think Norcross would be there. When he saw the coach coming in to the rink, he held the door open for him and asked if they could talk, but Norcross put his hands in front of his face and just walked away.

Later that day, following the Patriots win in the AFC Championship game, the family finally had a chance to talk about the incident, during which William mentioned for the first time the alleged puck throwing. Bill Foglietta explained how he had attempted to speak with Coach Norcross at the Sunday morning game in Ashburnham, but that he had refused to talk. Holly then tried to open the lines of communication herself by sending Norcross a text in which she explained how completely heart-broken she was about how he had treated her sons and how upset they were.

When she received no response, Holly texted Steve Patrie, a Lynn Youth Hockey Vice President who had a son on the team, requesting the opportunity to talk to him as a friend. Patrie was sympathetic and said it might be a good idea to sit and talk. He said that, while he had not been at the game, his wife was there. When Holly posted a comment about the incident on Facebook, his wife's comment had been "TERRIBLE!"

The next morning, January 23, 2012, Holly sent a text to Patrie advising him that, as the family had been unable to resolve the issue directly with Coach Norcross, she was going to register a complaint with the Lynn Youth Hockey board. Patrie texted back that he understood.

In a lengthy e-mail to the board, she then recounted the incident as it was told to her, including her husband's multiple, unsuccessful attempts to speak with Norcross, and, in language that would become the centerpiece of the upcoming battle, stated that, in her view, "the way he treated my boys this weekend could be looked at as borderline child abuse."  She closed the e-mail by requesting the Board's assurance that Norcross would be spoken to and that her sons would not be retaliated against.

In an e-mail that morning, the board's President responded by stating that he was "truly sorry this is making you feel the way you do", that a Board meeting was scheduled for that evening, and that he would make sure Holly's complaint was discussed. In a follow-up e-mail to Holly that afternoon, another Board member promised that would talk to Norcross that evening, acknowledged that there may have been a lack of communication between parent and coach, which had allowed things to "brew and explode," and expressed the hope that the matter could be "resolved in a positive way."

When Holly sent that board member an e-mail the next morning asking whether anything had come out of his meeting with Coach Norcross, he replied that Norcross was "unhappy with the accusations" and stated that the board would be meeting with Norcross, other coaches, and perhaps other parents, if needed, to discuss the situation and possible options for the remainder of the season.

The e-mail left Holly, according to her e-mail response, "shaking" and "completely sick" over the possibility that the Board would believe the coach's version of what happened over what her husband and the twins had witnessed, and she expressed concern that, because she had gone over the coach's head to the board, he would treat them differently for the rest of the year. She made it clear, however, that, based on what she had been told had happened, she was not going to allow her boys in the locker room with Coach Norcross alone.

The board member responded by e-mail in which he indicated that Coach Norcross had requested an opportunity to speak with the Board, because the Board needed to hear both sides in order to "create a solution." He cautioned, however, that, given the terminology that had been used - presumably, Holly's allegation that the coach's conduct could be viewed as "borderline child abuse" - arriving at such a solution was not going to be "an easy task," but, at least at that point, said the Board will still "hoping for a positive solution."