Parker Richards & Amanda Sandoval
Veritas Editor & Veritas Assistant Editor
(May 12, 2013) The Nantucket High School boys’ lacrosse team has been in turmoil over the past month. Its players have been accused of vandalism and shoplifting at a Hyannis gas station, engaged in a fight against opposing players from Mashpee, and had an altercation with their coach during a recent practice. The team’s head coach, Seth Upson, was suspended for two games following an outburst at players, according to numerous members of the team.
On a recent trip to Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School for a game against Nantucket’s island rivals, some members of the lacrosse team entered a Hess gas station in Hyannis, according to team members. Sophomore Fervon Phillips threw a stink bomb in the station, and he and other players allegedly stole small items from the store. Some players who were over 18 years old also purchased cigars. The gas station had to be shut down for the rest of the day as a result of the stink bomb. The coaches were unaware of the incident at the time, players said.
“Some members of the boys’ lacrosse team… engaged in behavior that was embarrassing to the individual, that was embarrassing to the team, and ultimately to our school,” NHS principal John Buckey said of the incident in Hyannis. “Consequences have been levied. Hopefully people take from this and learn from it,” Buckey added.
While Buckey cannot discuss matters of discipline, in accordance with school policy, Phillips stated that he has been removed from the team for the duration of the season.
About a month ago, prior to the incident at the Hess station, the boys’ lacrosse team played a home game against Mashpee High School. During the last quarter of the game, senior captain Devin Higgins was pursuing a Mashpee player who had the ball. The ball had fallen out of the player’s stick, but Higgins didn’t notice and kept pursuing the player as if he still had the ball. The player grew angry and began to push and shove Higgins. The Masphee player then began to punch Higgins, and he retaliated. After a few seconds, the Whaler players on the field ran to defend their teammate, as did the Mashpee team.
Some players who were bench then ran to the brawl on the opposite side of the field. Upson and Masphee’s head coach began to chastise the players in an attempt to defuse the situation.
The fight went on for several minutes, and shortly after it began, Higgins’ older adult brother, John, jumped the fence in front of the bleachers, and charged the field to get to the fight. Once in the mix, John Higgins attempted to pull the players away from his brother who has suffered concussions in the past and other injuries that have prevented him from playing. John Higgins began to throw haymakers at the players on the Mashpee team. Higgins’ father, David, then proceeded to rush the field in attempt to get his older son under control. After the two teams had settled down and were on opposite ends of the field, John Higgins left the area and members of the Nantucket Police Department arrived shortly thereafter. No arrests were made at the field.
The Whalers were dominating the field throughout the game, and the game was called after the brawl, ending in an 8-0 win for Nantucket.
The NHS athletic trainer, Michael Gagnon, took quick action as soon as the brawl broke out. He was on the phone and was taking instructions from athletic director Chris Maury. Gagnon attempted to calm players and onlookers alike. Parents of players were yelling at their children to stop and telling them to calm down. Gagnon went up to the announcer’s booth at the top of the stands to retrieve the camcorder, and filmed the incident. The police asked to see the tape to review the situation, according to Gagnon.
Some of the Masphee players had cuts that were bleeding, however no one sustained any serious injuries, Gagnon reported.
“I hope they can recover and finish off the season strong because I do see potential in those guys and it is a shame that it was marred by the action of few individuals,” Gagnon said.
During practice weeks after the brawl, a verbal altercation occurred between Upson and several players. Upson––who is in his first year as coach, having replaced Rick Blair––put a rule in place that mandated 10 pushups for any player who cursed during practice. When Upson himself swore, Phillips asked him to undertake the 10 pushups.
Phillips began taking a video on his cellphone of Upson as he did the pushups. Upson noticed, and he began to grow angry and yell. One player asked to continue practicing rather than argue. Upson told the player that he could leave, but that he would be kicked off the team if he did. The player departed, and was followed by the rest of the team, according to sophomore player Ben Zieff and others.
Upson did not respond to requests for comment.
The incident during practice “started as a joke, but then started to get more serious, and [Upson] kind of lost it, then [Phillips] lost it, too, and things just went downhill from there,” according to sophomore player Bailey Shirley. “It was just crazy. It should have been resolved in a much better way,” he added.
Shirley felt that Upson was “very much” out of line,” and felt that Upson’s suspension was earned. “I wish it was for the rest of the season,” he said.
Upson received a two-game suspension for his actions, said players.
Phillips also expressed a common sentiment among the team when he said, “down with [Upson], up with Blair.” The phrase has been repeated by other players, seeking to reinstate their former coach. Some players have attached stickers to their helmets with the initials of their former coaches on their helmets, said a player.
NHS administrators and members of the school committee expressed their disappointment this week with the incidents involving the lacrosse team.
“I am exceptionally dismayed about the things that have been going on with the male’s lacrosse program, with adults running on the field, attacking kids, when you have kids stealing and then setting off devices in the stores, I have a lot of concern about the lacrosse program, and this almost seems endemic,” said school committee member Dr. Tim Lepore. He added, “I have not on my time on the school committee seen anything like this. But since I’m not in charge I can’t promulgate what should be done. I’m upset that people would do things that would lead to the school’s reputation being besmirched… This is such an outlier.”
Buckey agreed. “I am disappointed that the actions are not the model that we want for our school, our programs, our student athletes, and I was disappointed. We need to be better at putting an image forward that is one that people want to copy, or to follow,” he said.
Maury held a meeting with the players, coaches, and Buckey last week. Maury told the players that there would be reduced punishments for those who admitted involvement in the incident at the Hess station, according to Zieff, who was present at the meeting. School officials have viewed security tapes of the incident, Buckey said. Some, including Phillips, came forward to admit their role in the incident.
“We could pull the plug and cancel the rest of the season, or we can provide an opportunity for those of you who love lacrosse and came out for this team because you wanted to play the sport, and not be engaged and embroiled in all of this secondary nonsense, step forward. We need to right the ship, some bad stuff has happened. We need to own that, and apologize for that, and show people why this team is worth another chance,” Buckey said of the tone of the meeting he and Maury had held with the team.
Maury declined to comment on the incidents.
The turmoil has overshadowed the team’s improved record this season as well. The team went 0-18 last year, but has rebounded this year with a record of 6-7.
“The success that this team has enjoyed, which arguably was not anticipated, [as] they were coming off a very rough season… [has] been overshadowed by this secondary nonsense,” said Buckey.
The team will continue its season, despite some calls to cancel it.
“There are those who will do the right thing, and there are those who choose a less admirable path, and then there are those who stand by and watch and follow,” summarized Buckey.
The administrators are hoping that the team can become more stable over the rest of the season, and begin to set an example for Nantucket’s teams in the future.