Keeping Score: One year later, Amherst College lacrosse situation still unsettled

Published: 3/5/2021 5:38:49 PM

Good morning!
This weekend is the first anniversary of the lacrosse meltdown at Amherst College, an ugly chain of events that continues to wreak havoc on the program.

It began with a 25-15 loss at Tufts on March 7, followed by a night of commiserating at Jenkins Hall. An early-morning dustup ensued, and one of the combatants was Black. The student newspaper called it a racial incident and media outlets ran with the story. On March 21, the school announced it had fired men’s lacrosse coach Jon Thompson.

“A change in leadership will be necessary,” said a letter signed by Amherst College president Biddy Martin, provost and dean of students Catherine Epstein, and athletic director Dan Faulstick.

The players were devastated. Impressionable young men admire battle-tested coaches, and Thompson was a star at Brown and had played professionally for the Boston Cannons of the MLL. He compiled a 127-45 record at Amherst and guided the Mammoths to seven NCAA tournaments in nine years.

It didn’t take long for him to find work. He was hired as an assistant coach by the Air Force Academy last summer, a Division I program that plays the best teams in the country.

Thompson’s successor, Rashad Devoe, was hired away from Hampton University, a fledgling D-1 program in Virginia that was 0-6 at the time of the COVID-19 shutdown. He was one of four coaches of color who were hired by Amherst in a two-month span, including Marlon Sears (men’s basketball), Busani Xaba (men’s and women’s squash) and Valerie Jones (volleyball).

At least one Amherst student-athlete said they were worried it was mere window dressing. “I just hope the athletic department doesn’t think it can just throw the new coaches in there and that’s going to fix everything,” women’s lacrosse player Bella Edo told Matthew Sparrow, a staff writer at the student newspaper — The Amherst Student.

A senior defender from Boxford, Edo’s observation was prescient. In October, several members of the lacrosse team allegedly accused Devoe of making inappropriate comments; Devoe countered that the criticism was unfounded.

Epstein acknowledged these “troubling interactions between the team and the head coach” and commissioned a fact-finding investigation using Boston attorneys Janet Judge and Phil Catanzano. According to sources, the interviews happened around Thanksgiving.

After two months of silence, in January, the parents and players reached out to the school and inquired about the status of the investigation. On February 12, Espstein texted a response to the lacrosse team.

“The clearest takeaway,” she wrote, “is the significant lack of trust between the players and coach.

“As a result,” Epstein continued, “we have decided to implement a series of team-building sessions for students and the coaching staff led by a third party facilitator. Dan Faulstick and I will check in with the facilitator monthly to monitor progress.”

The message was forwarded to me by the father of a former player who wrote, “No one on the team has heard one word all year [in 2021] from the coach or the AD. Nothing. Nada. One hundred percent silence between coach and team. How’s that for leadership?”

Perhaps Epstein and Faulstick should sit in on the sessions. Amherst students are accustomed to being taught by the best and coached by the best, as are their parents who pay up to $75,800 for a year’s tuition.

They’d learn that Thompson was perceived as a truth seeker, a man with a master’s degree in sports psychology who was working on his Ph.D at Springfield College. His replacement, meanwhile, didn’t play college lacrosse and described himself on Twitter as a “Video Game Junkie [and] Disney Enthusiast.”

In fairness, Devoe isn’t from New England and probably had no idea what he was getting himself into at Amherst.

The onus was on Faulstick to go outside the box and find a Black coach who could make the team thrive. Kyle Harrison and Myles Jones come to mind. The former starred at Johns Hopkins and the latter was a three-time All-American at Duke. Players listen to All-Americans from championship programs.

Neither of them has coaching experience but they play professionally and one of them might have accepted the challenge. Sure it’s a stretch, but it’s better than putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound and hoping it heals.

At this writing, the New England Small College Athletic Conference hadn’t decided whether to pull the plug on spring sports. “We’re waiting on the presidents to let us know,” said Williams College SID Dick Quinn. “The decision is expected any day now.”

The sooner the better for the Amherst lacrosse team, which needs to get back on the field and put this sorry episode behind them.

Kudos to Samantha “Sammy” Zywna who notched her first collegiate field hockey goal for Maryland in the Terps’ 2-1 win against Michigan State last weekend.

A sophomore forward, Sammy is the daughter of Debbie and Kevin Zwyna. Kevin played football for TFHS and subsequently graduated from Notre Dame. The family lives in Virginia Beach, where granddad John Zwyna hopes to visit once the pandemic ends.

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The designated hitter rule would have been instituted in 1981 if Ruly Carpenter hadn’t missed the annual league meeting. The Phils owner was on vacation and left it up to his general manager Bill Giles, according to “All Bat, No Glove” by the late Dick McKelvey of Deerfield.

Carpenter had instructed Giles to vote in favor of the DH, but during the meeting a motion was made to change the starting date. Giles didn’t want to risk Carpenter’s wrath and abstained from the voting. “I couldn’t contact him because he was out in the middle of the ocean fishing,” said Giles. “I tell people if Ruly hadn’t been out fishing the National League would have the designated hitter.”

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The UMass hockey team proved it belongs in the national title hunt after last week’s 3-2 overtime win at then-No. 1 Boston College.

It was wide open, up-and-down hockey. UMass coach Greg Carvel and BC’s Jerry York both believed their goaltenders would carry the day, and both were correct. The score was 2-2 after 60 minutes. Filip Lindberg stopped 29 shots for UMass and Spencer Knight made 35 saves for the Eagles.

Knight was the tough luck loser when a diving BC defenseman slid into the net and took the puck in with him.

Afterward an interesting comment was posted by “BC Eaglekeeper” on BC’s blogsite: “Carvel is a heck of a coach. The best UMass has ever had. He is still my No. 1 choice to replace Jerry York when he retires.”

Minutemen fans want Carvel to stay in Amherst, where he’ll make UMass a perennial contender just as York has done at BC.

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SQUIBBERS: The best and probably only place to find genuine Cajun cooking in Springfield has closed. Chef Wayne’s Big Mamou was shuttered last July. Gone are the fried oysters, pecan pie and cornbread so light it floated off the plate. … Grant Holloway burst Nike’s bubble when he set the world record in the 60-meter hurdles (7.29 seconds) using conventional track cleats. A Virginia native who ran track at the University of Florida, the 23-year-old Holloway said, “Hurdlers are sprinters with attitude.” The late Ace Kelley would’ve liked that line. … Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo told manager Alex Cora not to put him in the lineup, he’s not ready. What’s this, we’re back to the country club days? … Leave it to MLB to take a lesson from the Lottery and make every fifth baseball it manufactures a powerball. … Spring training tickets to JetBlue Stadium sold out quickly. Four “pod” seats in the rightfield grandstand for Tuesday’s game against Tampa Bay cost $124 ($31 each). They’re cheaper on StubHub, $24 to see today’s game against the Twins. … The Red Sox would burn up the AL East if David Hess pitched every game. The Tampa Bay right-hander gave up home runs to Kiké Hernandez, Jarren Duran and Rafael Devers in a six-run third inning on Tuesday. … An article in the Saturday Evening Post explains why superstition and luck are inexorably linked. “The brain doesn’t cope well with luck,” said pro poker player Ike Haxton, “so it latches onto things it can associate with good and bad luck.” Hence your black cats and lucky pennies. … MassWildlife wants to double the cost for a fishing license to $40 and triple the fee for a hunting license to $160. Get ready for blowback during this month’s public hearings. … Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner is on the Whole30 diet: “No dairy. No sugar. No carbs. No beans. No alcohol. No fun.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached at chipjet95@yahoo.com




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