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Kramer/My Turn: An image shattered

Peter Hindle was my JV baseball coach freshman year at Deerfield Academy and one of my biggest boosters during my varsity career.

Jovial and friendly, Hindle was a welcome contrast to the stereotypical “Dead Poet’s Society” faculty members whose strict discipline dominated Deerfield’s no-nonsense, stoic experience. Complicating matters further, there were about 500 boarding students and 20 to 25 of us day students from local rural towns. Our academic and sociological backgrounds bore little resemblance to the privileged roots of most of the boarding students. Hindle’s genteel demeanor as a teacher, coach and mentor helped us to bridge that gap. His reassuring approach was welcomed by day students whose Deerfield experience was predominantly a 9-to-5 routine of classes and athletics — then back home.

Perhaps we were lucky to be going home every night.

The July 21 Boston Globe Magazine Section cover story was a follow-up to recent generic allegations of sexual abuse by Hindle. In a detailed and well-written account of his sexual abuse by Hindle at Deerfield in 1983, Whit Sheppard broke his silence and the allegations became a painful and personal reality. He graphically described the choreographed antics of Hindle — his coach, teacher and mentor — in convincing Sheppard to allow him to give him a backrub followed by numerous instances of inexcusable sexual acts.

Having observed the Academy annoint Hindle to glorified status both before and after his retirement, Sheppard courageously disclosed his horrific experience with him and, in so doing, appropriately shattered our long-held image of the Deerfield icon. Sheppard’s story, a first-hand account by a victim, was much more troubling and damaging than earlier third-party reports of sexual transgressions by Hindle.

Reports of sexual abuse by priests, teachers, coaches and others who were long considered mentors often produce mixed initial reactions. Many will not believe the victims in order to preserve their long-held positive image of the perpetrator. For those of us who were fortunate to have Hindle as a coach it was a “Say it Ain’t So” response, preferring to think that the victim’s story was not credible. None of us wanted to have our long-held positive image of a teacher shattered by the knowledge of his deplorable acts of sexual abuse.

Although I graduated from Deerfield Academy over 40 years ago, it is difficult to accept that a friendly and supportive teacher and coach throughout my Deerfield years was also a sexual predator. Reconciliation of these two images is not easy. Although maturity, education and experience enable us to resolve most conflicts in life, this one is not quite so simple.

If I encountered Peter Hindle in the Boston area tomorrow and he greeted me with the same friendly and gracious manner he always did during my years as a day student at Deerfield, what should I do — respond by berating him or engage in a brief cordial conversation?

Frankly, I don’t know. Maturity, education and experience have also not prepared me for that hypothetical encounter. Regardless, the pristine image of Hindle, maintained by the school and generations of Deerfield students, has finally been corrected. Sheppard deserves credit for setting the record straight. He disclosed the truth and eliminated the false image of an icon that had been perpetuated for much too long.

A Deerfield Academy graduate, Steve Kramer grew up in Greenfield. He now resides in Medfield and is an attorney in private practice.

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