Ray Duckler: Storm swirling around Franklin's Golden Tornadoes
Greg Husband, of Franklin, N.H., the coach of the New Hampshire team, is seen during a practice session for the Shrine Bowl 2009 at the Kimball Union Academy football field in Meriden, N.H., on Friday, July 24, 2009. Valley News - Jakob M. Berr
After the big game last November, giving the Franklin High School football team its second state title in nine years under coach Greg Husband, the hard hits were just beginning.
That’s when Franklin and Mascoma Valley Regional players lined up near midfield to shake hands, a long-standing tradition to remind everyone about the role of sportsmanship in high school sports.
But instead, the ugly side of sports surfaced, featuring taunting and shoving, and later, an investigation by the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association, the state’s governing body of high school sports.
Fast-forward six months, and Husband admits one of his players initiated the tension, but adds that his team received too much of the blame. Mascoma Coach Ray Kershaw, also reached by phone this week, had nothing to say. The NHIAA, in its report
released six weeks ago, ruled harshly against Franklin, writing that further behavioral problems, even minor ones, will lead to sanctions against the football team and perhaps the entire program.
Last month, the Franklin School Board fired Husband as coach, replacing him Monday with his assistant, Jeff Kaplan, in a controversy as complex as a football playbook.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for the next chapter in this drama, which has supporters of Husband angry and confused, head over to Paul Smith Elementary School on May 20 for a school board meeting.
Husband’s dismissal is not on the agenda, and Superintendent Maureen Ward said via email that the board will discuss nonpersonnel issues only.
But good luck keeping this out of the conversation.
How hot is this topic? Hot enough for the city’s mayor, Ken Merrifield, to openly support Husband.
“I’m hearing only from people who are upset,” said Merrifield. “What is surprising to me is it doesn’t appear that very many people knew about this. There are a lot of folks I’m running into who are hearing about it for the first time, and they’re very upset.”
School board members declined comment this week, and in fact reached their decision to fire Husband in a nonpublic session during an open meeting last month.
When the board reappeared that night, member Al Warner moved to thank Husband for his service, then directed Ward to hire a new coach “who will (emphasize) . . . good sportsmanship in our students,” according to minutes from the meeting.
And after Tamara Feener seconded the motion, the board chose to seal the minutes of the nonpublic session for 50 years.
Husband, though, wants to talk about it, including what happened on that fall day last November in Hanover, when the Golden Tornadoes beat Mascoma, 42-22, in what turned out to be Husband’s final game at Franklin.
“We have the championship game with Mascoma, and at the end of the game our first player in line makes the comment to their coach, ‘Who’s laughing now?’ ” Husband said.
But Mascoma says the taunting got worse, with Franklin players tossing profanity around like footballs. There was pushing, there was shoving, and there was a history of conflict between the two schools. And, apparently, between the former Franklin coach and the superintendent, but more on that later.
For the sports rivalry, go back to the regular season football game, when Husband says his players were taunted after a Mascoma win. And go back to the teams’ basketball game last winter, when a Franklin player, also on the football team, made sure Mascoma fans noticed his state championship football shirt.
And go back to the baseball game this spring, a Mascoma win. “There was graffiti all over the back of our high school after that one, repeating scores and saying we were lucky in the state championship (football) game,” Husband said. “It was all over the pavement with chalk.”
Meanwhile, Husband and Ward have been at odds since last June, according to Husband, who believes the report by the NHIAA was simply used by Ward and the school board as an excuse to fire him.
He says Ward made it clear that she didn’t like it when Husband split up with his wife, a friend of Ward’s, and began dating another woman. He says Ward accused him of embezzling $1,000 from the football program, of trying to profit from the resale of football cards used to raise money for the sport and of permitting unauthorized personnel to attend football camp last summer.
In response, Husband filed a harassment complaint last summer with the school administrative unit – three months before the state football championship – which he says was cast aside without a proper investigation.
“There were a plethora of things that happened, insinuations,” Husband said. “I never had a negative evaluation at Franklin High before last June.”
When asked whether he planned to file a formal lawsuit, Husband declined to comment.
Few others would comment this week on anything. Not Mascoma Coach Kershaw, not Mascoma Athletic Director John Kelly, not Franklin Athletic Director Mike Zmuda, and not Franklin School Board Chairman Ray Yonaitis.
Ward wrote in an email: “The decision (has) been made by the school board to hire a new football coach. As superintendent . . . my focus is on the continued success of the Franklin School District and its student athletes.”
Pat Corbin, director of the NHIAA, had plenty to say, including the fact that a representative from his association witnessed poor sportsmanship after the championship game. “He really didn’t have any information to indicate who was the instigator,” Corbin said. “It just was apparent there were some bad feelings at the end of the game.”
However, after separate hearings in front of the NHIAA’s sportsmanship committee in March, attended by the principals, athletic directors and coaches from each school, Corbin did not mince words in a letter he sent to Franklin administrators.
Franklin needed to change.
“Their program will be under careful scrutiny in the coming years,” Corbin wrote, and “any sportsmanship infractions, even minor instances, will lead to sanctions against the Franklin football program and potentially the entire athletic program.”
Less than three weeks later, Husband was fired, replaced a few days ago by Kaplan, his assistant since 2009.
Husband says he’ll be at the meeting May 20. He believes it’s too late to save his job.
But he hopes the reaction will give him peace of mind.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Husband said. “I’m probably not going to say anything. I’m going to let the public speak.”
(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler
@cmonitor.com or on Twitter