Fired York High School coach Randy Small, speaking this week publicly for the first time since his ouster, defended himself from accusations by parents in the wake of an Oct. 28 football game — saying he did nothing wrong and taking aim against a process he said gave him no opportunity to question his accusers or raise his own defense.
“I wish I did something wrong. I would go away,” said Small. “I’m not perfect. Far from it. But I wasn’t going to resign. If I did, I’d be admitting I’m guilty. And I’m not.”
Small, who served as York High football coach for 21 seasons, was terminated by interim Superintendent Mark McQuillan four days after a quarterfinal match against Fryeburg Academy that YHS lost 41-0. He was fired not from the football coaching job, but from his stipended position with the YHS basketball team, which he also coached. School officials have given no reason for his termination.
Small’s termination has been the focus of much discussion with community members voicing support at several School Committee meetings, writing numerous letters to the editor and posting on social media. A group of parents and community members, calling themselves Coaches and Kids Matter, formed in the aftermath to support Small and push for changes in the School Department policies surrounding coaches and more.
Small spoke Monday in the offices of his attorney, Wendy Moulton. Assistant football coach Stacy Bradburn, assistant basketball coach Kevin Talty and Kent Kilgore of the group Coaches and Kids Matter, were also in attendance.
YHS Athletic Director Andy Wood, McQuillan and School Committee chairwoman Julie Eneman all said they were precluded from talking about the incident. In an email, McQuillan said he and Wood have been advised by the school attorney not to discuss the matter, citing the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, which protects student information from being publicly disseminated. This has been their stance from the beginning.
McQuillan told a reporter while he appreciates efforts to seek their input, “going on the record, which you are asking me and Andy to do, is simply not possible, even if it means creating a bad impression in the eyes of York residents.”
According to Small, written complaints lodged against him following the Oct. 28 game revolve primarily around a one-minute time-out huddle near the end of the second quarter, when YHS was down 20-0.
“One of our kids got struck on the sidelines. He got hit hard. Nothing against Fryeburg. That’s football,” he said. “About a play or two later, another kid was struck in the back and knocked down. We were beaten. The kids weren’t playing to that level that they needed to protect themselves. Football is a violent sport, especially when a team smells blood in the water. So I called a timeout and brought everyone together.”
Small said there was “some swearing in the huddle, not by a coach, by a few of the players trying to fire up their teammates. Seventeen, 18-year-old kids do that.”
Bradburn said he put an end to the swearing, backing up Small. “It was loud,” he said of the swearing. “I yelled at the players and they stopped. Some of them, the game meant a lot to them and there was some bad language.”
“From then on, the game settled down,” Small said.
Bradburn said in the days afterward as it became clear Small’s job as coach was on the line he contacted the Fryeburg coach and athletic director and football officials. “They said they didn’t hear anything that they haven’t heard at other football games,” he said.
Small made available copies of emails sent to Wood and McQuillan in the days after the game from people complaining about Small’s behavior in the huddle. One person described the “profanity laced team huddle” as “disgusting and embarrassing.”
Another accused Small of “yelling profanities” at the team from the sidelines prior to the huddle. “Coach Small told the team they weren’t tough enough, were ‘soft’ and would never amount to anything in life.” This person then goes on to say, “Although our silence over the years makes us somewhat complicit, it is because our kids have begged us not to say anything for fear of being benched, further abused, etc.”
Another said Small was “an angry adult, about to lose control, recklessly screaming at his players.”
Small said, although the names of the people and any reference to players except his own son Peyton were redacted from the emails, he said there are a small number of parents who have been vocally opposed to him as a basketball coach over the years, and some of their sons play on both teams.
Up until this game, Small said, as far as he knows there have been no complaints lodged against him as a football coach during his 21 years. Certainly, he said, Wood never called him into his office to answer to a parental complaint. “That’s why this is all the more frustrating,” he said.
He strongly contests the complainants’ account of the game, and notes no flag was thrown during that huddle from officials who were nearby. “We don’t berate kids. Berating kids gets you nowhere. Berating doesn’t happen with me or with those on my staff. If we were belittling kids, why do we have such a high participation rate year after year?”
He said, for instance, when he started as football coach, 17 students tried out. Since then, tryouts have averaged between 50 and 60 students. With basketball, on average 40 students try out. “In football we have one of the highest participation rates in the state, more participation than bigger schools,” he said.
Following the game
He said he had inklings within a day that something was brewing among parents, but it wasn’t until the following Wednesday that he was asked to meet with Wood and McQuillan.
“I didn’t know what this meeting is about. No one asked me about anything,” Small said. “Andy said, ‘With the information I have, I can’t put you forward’” as boys basketball coach. “That’s when the superintendent said, ‘You’re a poor representation for York High School and I want you to resign.’ He said he didn’t want the town any more divided than it already was,” citing a recent incident involving a gay student who said he was bullied.
The following day, he received an email telling him his job was terminated. Small and others said they feel his termination is the fulfillment of a promise of a School Committee member Talty identified as Dick Bachelder. He said shortly after Bachelder was elected, he and Talty were at a party together. Talty overheard Bachelder saying, “Randy shouldn’t be coaching two major sports and he was going to do something about it. Randy had too much control. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This was in public with no regard for privacy issues.”
Bachelder declined comment for this story on the advice of the school attorney.
Asked what he wants going forward, Small said he first and foremost wants the School Committee to call a hearing, so he has the opportunity to defend himself. If he had been a teacher as well, he would be allowed a hearing under terms of the teacher contract.
He also wants to see the School Committee adopt protocols and procedures governing the termination of stipend coaches. “I would have hoped there was a protocol,” said Bradburn. “They have to develop one. If we don’t have anything to protect coaches, who are we going to get to coach? I really have a concern about that.”
Small also said he wants to hold School Committee members accountable to their own ethics rules, which he believes did not happen with regard to Bachelder. Small did not call Bachelder by name.
Small said he’s heard some of his defenders say the town “has gone to hell.”
“With all due respect, that’s not true,” he said. “The support has been unbelievable. I’d hate to see the few destroy everything.”
Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.