Ray Duckler: Let Pembroke's Pat Welch be an example: Choose your words carefully
Pembroke's Pat Welch (left) looks up at the clock during the final game of the Division II championship against Portsmouth on Saturday, March 16, 2014 at UNH in Durham. Pembroke, the defending champions, won the game and secured their title. Welch was named Player of the Year in his division, but had the title revoked after a tweet about Portsmouth that the New Hampshire Basketball Coaches Organization considered "flagrant unsportsmanlike behavior."
(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor file)
Pembroke's Pat Welch (right) defends against Portsmouth in the final game of the Division II championship on Saturday, March 16, 2014 at UNH in Durham. Pembroke, the defending champions, won the game and secured their title. Welch was named Player of the Year in his division, but had the title revoked after a tweet about Portsmouth that the New Hampshire Basketball Coaches Organization considered "flagrant unsportsmanlike behavior."
(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor file)
For the past few years, Pat Welch, a star basketball player at Pembroke Academy, has been giving tips to young players eager to learn from the best.
And now, after officials stripped him of an award and banned him from two all-star games because of a tweet, Welch is teaching kids lessons off the court as well.
It’s difficult to say that Welch got what he deserved Saturday, when the New Hampshire Basketball Coaches Organization punished him for aiming the F-word at Portsmouth High, the team Pembroke beat recently for the state title.
But Welch left state officials no choice.
In a world of twitter and texts, of emails and Facebook, everything is now on the record.
And that includes something tweeted that in no way reflects the character of the tweeter.
In this case, Welch.
He’s beloved in the town’s sports community, known as a kid with a quick smile and unselfish nature. He’s a role model and a volunteer, and my meeting with him yesterday at a friend’s home in Epsom reinforced all that I had heard about him.
My friend’s son, 13-year-old Noah Cummings, admires Welch and sat at the dining room table during my interview.
“I want people to know that I’m really sorry about what I said,” Welch told me. “This is a learning experience. It’s something that will never happen again. For kids who look up to me, think about your words before you put them out there.”
He put the words out there shortly after his Spartans beat Portsmouth, 49-40, on March 15 to win their second-straight Division II championship.
Walking to the bus in the parking lot at Lundholm Gymnasium in Durham, Welch tweeted:
“Shout out to Portsmouth, you may have won in the regular season. . . . But we won the ship you suck #----yourself.”
Welch made no excuses, saying, “What happens in the game should stay in the game. We had won back-to-back championships and I was emotional.”
He’s since paid for that emotion.
Welch’s words were quickly re-tweeted, with messages calling him classless, he said. “I deleted it after 10 minutes,” Welch said. “I regretted sending it because I knew it was wrong.”
From there, events transpired like a Welch-led fast break. Four days after the title game, Welch was named Division II Player of the Year for the second-straight season.
The next day, last Thursday, Pembroke Athletic Director Suzanne Klink and Headmaster Mike Reardon called Welch in for a meeting.
They had heard about the tweet and wanted an apology, so Welch wrote one and the three drove to Portsmouth to hand-deliver it.
Portsmouth Athletic Director Russ Wilson, speaking to my friend Dave Cummings of Epsom, said, “We were very satisfied with the apology. It was very sincere, and we appreciated that they took two or three hours out of their day to make the trip.”
Further, Portsmouth basketball Coach Jim Mulvey told Cummings that he “was saddened” that the coaches organization took the award away from Welch.
Cummings set up my meeting with Welch. He wanted me to hear the other side of the story, the one about Welch’s volunteer work with the Granite State Raiders, an Amateur Athletic Union team coached by Pembroke Coach Matt Alosa and his father, Frank Alosa.
He wanted me to know that Welch played with the Pembroke Unified Volleyball Team, a program that mixes students with and without special needs.
And he wanted me to know what Welch has meant to his son, Noah, who one day hopes to follow his idol and play for Pembroke Academy.
Welch has been guiding Noah for five years.
“Pat made me love basketball,” Noah said. “He introduced me to the Raiders.”
That doesn’t mean Noah wasn’t surprised and disappointed when he read Welch’s tweet. “At that moment I didn’t know why he would do that,” Noah said. “I knew it was the heat of the moment, but I thought it was inexcusable.”
And it was, to the point that something drastic needed to be done.
Matt Alosa said there was no justification for Welch’s behavior, but he disagreed with the punishment, saying, “I don’t think you take away a player’s body of work for the whole year because he swore on Twitter.”
Alosa added that the Player of the Year award is based on what a player does on the court and nothing else. Sportsmanship, Alosa said, is part of Gatorade’s Mr. Basketball award.
“Technically, this award has zero to do with what happened with that tweet,” Alosa said. “It has to do with your basketball performance as the best player in our division.”
But I suspect that those like myself, who say any award connected to scholastic sports must include sportsmanship, feel Welch’s tweet made a hard decision for state officials a little easier.
These days, everyone is listening. Tweet the F-word, suffer the consequences, and that’s what Gary Noyes, president of the coaches association, felt as well.
“This award is not based solely on a basketball player’s ability,” Noyes said in his statement released Saturday, “but also on that player’s character and demonstrated sportsmanship.”
Noah said he forgives Welch, because Welch’s apology carried more weight than his mistake.
For his part, Alosa said he’ll do his best to make sure this never happens again.
“With team rules there are always consequences,” Alosa said, “and I’m going to make a statement to the kids next season that you’re not allowed to tweet except the score of the game.”
Welch, who will prepare for college ball with a season at Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass., also believes his punishment was too harsh.
But he’s privy to the impact it might have had on kids who idolize him.
Like Noah Cummings.
“That’s the worst part of it,” Welch said. “I don’t know if it changed their opinion about me, but I hope not. I’m really sorry I did it.”