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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?


Hopes dashed

Those hopes were soon dashed. On the morning of Thursday, January 26, 2012, Holly sent an e-mail to a board member advising him that the twins had practice that evening, which both she and her husband planned on attending, and expressing concern about how Coach Norcross was going to treat them.

The board member responded two hours later with an email in which he recommended against going to practice because the situation was still, in his view, "far too hot to be going back into the fire." He went on to state that the Board, without hearing from or sitting down with the Fogliettas, had decided to back Norcross. Based on what he said was the strong support Norcross had from other coaches and many parents, he said the board felt it best if the Foglietta twins were removed from the team and dropped down to the B team for the remainder of the season. It was an "option" which, unbeknownst to the Fogliettas, both MassHockey and the Valley League, one of the two leagues in which the Lynn Comets played, had apparently already said they would not permit, but, in any event, the suggestion was quickly rejected by Holly. Austin and William Foglietta

In the early afternoon that day, Holly, in hopes of salvaging what was rapidly escalating into all-out war, and at the urging of a Board member and the team's assistant coach, Cassidy, sent an e-mail to Coach Norcross in which she extended an olive branch, apologizing for the "borderline child abuse" comment, which, she said, came from her "heart after watching Austin crying over how badly you hurt his feelings."  She was sure - or at least hoped - that "any mother would react with the same passion" as she did. Holly expressed the hope that her sons would be able to finish the season with their teammates, and offered to stay away from practices and sit quietly in the stands for the remaining games.

The next morning, Bill Foglietta sent Coach Norcross a text message in which he likewise expressed regret that things had gotten so out of hand, admitted that Austin had violated the team concept by calling attention to himself when he asked for the puck, but essentially begged the coach to let the boys finish the year with their friends, to, as he said, "put the kids first."

Backing the coach

At 4:45 p.m. on Friday, January 27, 2012, the other shoe dropped. After what it said were several days investigating and discussing the Fogliettas' "serious and troubling comments and accusations of ‘borderline child abuse'" against Norcross, the Board advised the family that it had found "no evidence" to support her comments and accusation of child abuse, confirmed that Norcross would remain as coach, and that, as a result, it was "in the best interest of all parties involved that the relationship between the Foglietta's [sic] and Lynn Youth Hockey be terminated."

The next day, Saturday, January 28th, Holly responded. "Pretty sad," she began her e-mail, "that the Board has decided this is more about the coaching staff than the children/players." She expressed disappointment that the Board didn't appear to have gotten the complete story, that none of the other parents or players were apparently asked to give statements or were interviewed - some of whom she said were prepared to sign sworn statements, along with their children, about what had happened that day in and out of the locker room - and that neither she, her husband nor her children, unlike Norcross, had been afforded the opportunity to meet with the Board before it decided to side with the coach. In short, she said, the Board, "took Norcross's word over two scared little children."

On February1, 2012, Jeffrey Brown, the Chair of the MassHockey Discipline Committee, provided Holly with a link to the web page containing the organization's bylaws relating to the disciplinary procedures that applied to Lynn Youth Hockey, its players, coaches, officials and parents, volunteers and spectators.

On the very first page, under the heading "THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT RULES", it states, as the first rule, that "Disciplinary action may be taken only AFTER a hearing by the appropriate disciplinary authority following specific rules and procedures." A disciplinary hearing was mandatory "for any alleged violations of any rules and/or policies including but not limited to: Zero Tolerance [and] Codes of Conduct."  Written notice of the disciplinary hearing - to be comprised of a chairman and 3 or 5 "reasonably independent and objective" persons" (e.g. no close friends of any of the parties) - needed to be provided seven days in advance of the hearing, provide reasonable notice of the grounds for proposed discipline (such as "You have been charged with violation of ...."), and state the names of any witnesses that would be called. It expressly allowed lawyers to represent parties at the hearing.