‘This is just not normal’

‘This is just not normal’

Parents speak up about former LHS baseball coach's behavior

LINCOLN – Parents say a “dark cloud” has lifted since Andrew Hallam, the former Lincoln High School baseball coach and English teacher, was fired, but concerns about Hallam extended beyond eyebrow-raising fundraiser discrepancies.

Hallam, the 32-year-old Warwick resident arrested on charges of embezzling $8,440 from fundraisers for the LHS baseball team, was known for behavior parents said was “inappropriate,” including comments made to student athletes.

Before his firing in August, based on concerns brought to the School Department, Supt. Georgia Fortunato said there was an internal investigation about complaints before the Rhode Island State Police investigation began. Fortunato did not provide an exact timeline for when the investigation started.

“Everything we did, we did by the book, and we followed the direction of our legal counsel,” she said, explaining that given the ongoing investigation with state police, there was little detail she could provide.

Hallam did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Parents said Hallam, who was fired Aug. 7 by the School Committee, was known for shouting expletives during games, berating athletes and dodging questions about where funds raised by the students and their families went over the years.

But it wasn’t until more recently, parents said, that students started to realize how “inappropriate” his behavior was.

‘This is just not normal’

The student athletes were used to playing with worn-out equipment despite raising thousands of dollars with fundraisers, parents said, but they also became accustomed to Hallam “saying weird stuff,” said parent Joel Landry.

Landry and other parents said they heard Hallam make comments they considered inappropriate toward students.

“I think the kids finally realized it – this is just not normal,” a parent who wished to remain anonymous said of Hallam’s behavior and remarks.

“There was no way this could go on,” John Picozzi of the school board said of the described “toxic culture” of the baseball program.

About six parents reached out to the School Committee with concerns ranging from doubts about fundraising to issues with the coach’s behavior, Picozzi said. They also mentioned comments the coach made that Picozzi said were completely inappropriate in a school setting.

Supt. Fortunato said it is “imperative” that parents and students have their much-needed voices heard about any problems in schools.

“You have to call people and report what’s going on,” she said.

Kristine Donabedian, chairwoman of the School Committee, said the behavior parents described was “absolutely unacceptable.”

Asked about one particular inappropriate comment allegedly made by Hallam after a game, she said that conduct “would be totally inappropriate, and not tolerated.”

She said it was sometime in April when a parent reached out to the School Committee with complaints about Hallam, and shortly after, the board directed the School Department to conduct an internal investigation.

Donabedian said those complaints became part of the state police investigation into Hallam and alleged embezzlement.

“These are very, very serious concerns,” she said, adding that it’s important members of the Lincoln school community address the school board with issues.

Unfulfilled promises

Parents of student athletes playing on the baseball team said they first started to notice something was off when Hallam disregarded their questions about fundraiser accounts.

During the 2014-2015 season, two players alone raised thousands of dollars, parents said. Despite having about 20 students collectively on the varsity and junior varsity teams sell 20 tickets for $20 each, students and parents alike saw no improvements to the field, baseball bats, helmets or baseballs for years.

In fact, parents said, the baseballs the team used at practice were waterlogged, and dangerous to use. The parent who asked to remain anonymous said Hallam had told parents it was “really hard” to get money from the School Department.

“I think it triggered in all of our minds, something’s off,” the parent said.

At first, students embraced the fundraising after hearing incentives that included new Oakley sunglasses and gear, parents said.

After some time though, the parent said of the students, “They’re not idiots. They realized too, ‘We’re not getting anything.’ ”

Joe Goho, vice chairman of the School Committee, said Lincoln has one of the highest per-pupil expenditures in the state, and both academics and athletics are well-funded by the town. He said there was “no logical reason” student athletes on the baseball team didn’t have the best equipment.

Fortunato hailed the work of School Department Business Manager Lori Miller, the School Committee and taxpayers that vote at each Financial Town Meeting to decide the budget for the schools.

“If there was anything that wasn’t properly funded through our budget, I would learn about it,” she said, adding that equipment and gear should be funded through the department without the need for fundraisers.

‘There was a culture of fear’

“This coach fostered an atmosphere of negativity,” Landry said, explaining that rather than provide constructive criticism or encouragement, Hallam would ridicule the high school players.

If an LHS student athlete didn’t perform well, multiple parents said, Hallam would loudly berate them and say he would make them quit the team.

“You don’t say things like that, you’re a role model,” said a parent.

The parents said they and others could hear the varsity baseball coach swearing at athletes during games.

“There was a culture of fear. Nobody would open their mouth,” said Landry. He said the LHS teammates had been playing baseball together since they were in kindergarten.

The anonymous parent said she also heard that Hallam would reach out to the athletes, saying “he had their back, they needed to have his.”

As children, the parent said, the students felt they needed to protect their coach.

Goho said that in Lincoln, “we look at athletics as an extension of the classroom.”

He said the situation with the former baseball coach “is the exception” to the teachers and coaches in the district, employees he called role models.

“I do feel very confident that it’s an isolated situation ... It is not at all reflective of the first-class education and athletic program provided by Lincoln Public Schools and the town of Lincoln,” he said.

Fortunato echoed that sentiment, and said the athletic program in Lincoln Middle School and LHS is outstanding, filled with talented athletes of whom the district is proud.

‘When he left, it was like a black cloud left’

Landry said once Hallam was no longer head coach of the varsity team, junior varsity coach Kevin DiComitis helped out.

“When Kevin took over, the difference was palpable,” Landry said, and other parents agreed.

“When he (Hallam) left, it was like a black cloud left,” he said.

Fortunato said a job posting for the baseball coach position was published online in August after Hallam’s firing.

“From everyone I’ve talked to, the players and parents, we’re all looking forward to a regime change and a new culture coming in, and we hope that the School Committee and the superintendent and the athletic director make a wise decision,” Landry said.

Nick Zammarelli, a 2013 LHS graduate and former All-State player who recently concluded his second professional season with the Clinton (Iowa) LumberJacks, a Single-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, said of the situation, “It’s definitely not what I want to see, especially since Lincoln High School has a place in my heart, but hopefully they do the right thing and they bring in someone that can turn that program around.”

Zammarelli donated 36 minor league baseballs to the program this spring.

“Obviously this has been a tough stretch for them and the community because we’re a big baseball community, but I think they’re going to get the support and the help that they need,” he said.

In regards to the ongoing alleged embezzlement case, Landry said, Hallam is “guilty of nothing right now, he’s just charged.”

“I respect that. That being said, I also respect the integrity of the state police,” he added.

One parent said, “I never want to see anyone lose a job, that’s horrific. But when you do something wrong and you rob our kids, not only from money, but rob them from a passion (for baseball), (a) love that they always had, shame on you.”

Valley Breeze Sports Editor Eric Benevides contributed to this report.

Comments

For the administration to act like this is new to them is comical. They had received complaints for years and always swept it under the rug.
It is time to move on, hopefully administration has learned that hiding things will only come back to bite you in the end. They are more worried about the district getting a black eye, well guess what by hiding all the issues with the coach for years it all came out. Now you have been in the paper for a coach embezzling money. How is that for your black eye.
It is time to give the kids of Lincoln and the kids of the LHS Baseball team what they deserve and have worked for. Let them put the past behind them and move on for the 2018 season. And hopefully when people talk administration will listen and take action. This could have all been avoided!!

wondering why nothing has been said or done to the 2 assistant coaches that some of the money went to? shouldnt they be charged?

First and foremost, I would like to clear up some things first as I believe keeping members of our Community informed is extremely important as I do work for them. Clarifying misinformation is also important. The Varsity Baseball Team did not have two Assistant Coaches; they had two Volunteer Coaches that the School Committee appointed including the Head Coach. Because High School Administration wanted to protect one Volunteer, they told the Superintendent that both were paid from the Head Coach. This was absolutely not true but was relayed that way due to the friendship that the High School Administration has with one of them. This is why both were let go. I wanted to restore the one who didn’t accept money but it wouldn’t look good for the Volunteer who accepted money over a two-three year period so I was denied. I didn’t push it and he didn’t want to come back and cause any more confusion for the kids anyway. Additionally, I was never told the innocent one wrote and signed a letter to the High School Administration claiming his innocence. He provided a copy to me. It has not been proven that the money paid to the Volunteer was from fundraising funds and it hasn’t been proven that it was from the Head Coaches work pay either as stated by all involved. If the State Police feel it’s pertinent at this point, they will look into it as they have all of the information. We are so grateful for their attention into this matter.

In my eyes, this is what the two Volunteers are guilty of; allowing our athletes to be subjected to a lowlife environment every single day during their Seasons. The yelling, the cursing, the sexual innuendos, the bullying and retaliation, the manipulating behaviors, the field conditions, the favoritism, the lack of and decaying equipment and deplorable uniforms that would qualify to be donated to poor countries. Although it’s over, I think it’s safe to say that along with myself and the rest of the School Committee members have mixed emotions of disbelief, embarrassment, resentment, and really feel bad that our Athletes were subjected to this. But, we’re moving on positively and we will prevail in the end. That is my promise to everyone in our Community, but most importantly, all those kids who love Baseball and just want to play the game they grew up to love.