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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?

Both sides now

On Saturday, February 11, 2012, when the Lynn Comets Squirt A travelled to nearby Revere for a 9 a.m. game, Austin and William were not with the team. A player who was, the son of the only parent willing to speak on record for the February 10th Item article that she heard Norcross screaming at Austin, saw his playing time substantially reduced, which left him in tears after the game and prompted a complaint by his mother directly to the LYH Board president in attendance at the game. Holly later learned from a neighbor whose son played for another area select hockey team which scrimmaged the Comets the next day that the mom who supported the Fogliettas' version of events was allegedly not even told that scrimmage was taking place.

On Monday, February 13, 2012, the second day of hearing was held. In attendance were Coach Norcross, his wife, his lawyer, and the members of the panel. Despite later stating that it "heard from" assistant coach Cassidy and players from the team, the sign-in sheet for the hearing does not contain the name of any parents, players or assistant coaches.

The next day, a second article appeared in the Daily Item, largely about a group of parents expressing support for Coach Norcross and blaming the whole affair on Holly Foglietta.

On Wednesday, February 15, 2012, a third article appeared in the Daily Item in which two youth sports coaches who had coached the Foglietta twins expressed their opinion that Norcross had mishandled what should have been a non-issue.

Nick Galeota, who coached William and Austin for two years in Salem Little League, told the newspaper that he couldn't believe Austin's decision to ask to keep a puck had led to the kids being suspended from the league because Holly had filed a complaint with LYH.

While he conceded that the twins were "two of the most competitive boys" he coached, he said he routinely handed out game balls to players who hit home runs during a game and didn't understand why Norcross allegedly yelled at Austin for wanting the puck used to score his 200th goal as a souvenir.

"If I had a kid get a puck and I had a problem with it, which I don't, I would have pulled the parents and child aside after the game privately, and not in front of anybody else, and talked about it," he told the paper.

"Why are the kids suspended? I don't understand it," he said. "This is something the kids are going to remember for the rest of their lives."   Foglietta twin in locker room

A second coach, Ricky Mayne, the longtime coach of an area "select" hockey team on which the boys had played for two years and for whom Holly Foglietta acted as team mom, defended her actions.

Dealing with parents, and hockey moms in particular, Mayne told the paper, is part of the job for any hockey coach.

"I've had mothers say worse stuff to me, believe me," Mayne said. "All this woman did was stick up for her sons."

Like Galeota, Mayne criticized Norcross' alleged reaction to Austin asking the referee for the puck. "He's a 9-year-old kid. To do what he (Norcross) [is said to have done] is crazy." He called the twins "great kids," an assessment with which Norcross' attorney agreed.

No surprise

On February 18, 2012, the head of the LYH disciplinary committee advised the Fogliettas' attorney by e-mail that it had decided unanimously that the "allegations of child abuse" made by Holly were "unsubstantiated" and affirmed the prior board decision to end the relationship with the Foglietta family, and that a written decision would be provided on or before February 23rd. The e-mail made no mention of the grounds for such draconian action.

That same day Holly heard from another parent that Coach Norcross had been removed from the bench at the game at Merrimac College because he wasn't certified, although she wasn't told by whom the action had been taken. The USA Hockey website shows that Norcross's certification expired on December 31, 2011 for failing to complete the course required to coach at the Squirt level. (His attorney later said he was in the process of being re-certified.)  The names of one of Norcross' assistant coaches, as well as a number of other assistant coaches and one head coach of other LYH teams, did not even appear on the USA Hockey coaches list.

On February 23, 2012, the LYH Discipline Committee issued its written decision. It framed the issue as a question of whether Holly Foglietta had violated its Zero Tolerance Policy in accusing Norcross of "Borderline Child Abuse", an alleged violation that was not mentioned as a basis for the Board's earlier decision to sever all ties with the Foglietta family or in any of LYH's communications with Holly leading up to the hearing.

The panel went on to say that, after obtaining phone and in-person interviews from the coaches and other parents present at the rink that day - none of whom, besides Norcross, testified at the actual hearing or from whom written statements were, as far as the Fogliettas know, ever received - it had concluded that the claims against Norcross "could not be substantiated."

Apparently central to the panel's thinking were the fact that the boys were present the next day at another game, and both dressed in the locker room (which occurred only because the Fogliettas had been lead by assistant coach Cassidy to believe that Norcross would not be at the game that day), Holly's January 26 e-mail apology to Norcross (suggested by a board member), and the fact that had Holly had alerted the local paper to the controversy, which it characterized as the pursuing of a "parallel track of making other allegations against Mr. Norcross in the [news]paper" (conveniently omitting the fact that Holly did not contact the newspaper until February 6th, a full week after her confidential e-mail to the board, more than two weeks after the initial incident, and long after the horse - in this case the severing of Lynn Youth Hockey's relationship with the Fogliettas - was out the barn door. Considered in its totality, the panel said, Holly's conduct constituted what it characterized as "an incredible breach of the zero tolerance policy." The panel claimed that it considered all possible options short of terminating the program's relationship with the Foglietta family, but had concluded that termination was the only viable solution.

Needless to say, the decision was front page news in the Daily Item. The Fogliettas' attorney promised an appeal to MassHockey, not because he expected LYH would put the twins back on the team but "so other children who play for Lynn Youth Hockey are protected."  A statement released by Bill and Holly Foglietta, reported in the Daily Item on February 24th, stated in part: "This decision to continue to punish the Foglietta boys was the culmination of a thoughtfully orchestrated cover-up of the very serious allegation of verbal and physical abuse by the boys' coach, and to be sure, the outcome had a predetermined conclusion from its start."

The Fogliettas' appeal is currently pending before MassHockey. "We are confident that their review will vindicate the Fogliettas, and find O'Keefe and Lynn Youth Hockey violated the established process and rules to deal with the allegations raised in this incident, but shall accept any conclusion nonetheless," the couple told the newspaper.

As for the twins, it was too late in the season for them to  join another team. They will be attending to some skill sessions this month, and skating once a week with their father, who plays with the Massport Firemen, to keep sharp until tryouts start up again.