Community members packed the Wilton High School Professional Library for the  Board of Education’s March 10 meeting. Wilton High School Athletic Director Chris McDougal was on the agenda to address concerns among parents of student-athletes regarding the high school department’s procedures, but many parents continued to feel his leadership was lacking.

Background


Kyle Lauricella, whose daughter is a senior and member of the girls soccer team at Wilton High School, voiced her concerns about the athletic department to the board back in November, saying the department and school principal “were asked to address and explain several issues from several different sports,” including complaints from junior varsity and varsity girls soccer players and their parents.

Lauricella said she and her husband, as well as at least four other families, attempted to “work through them by bringing them to the attention of the administration, but received “little to no response.”

“Other than cursory emails acknowledging receipt of the written complaints and questions, there has been no follow up, no policy or procedure change or implementation, no explanation and no accountability,” she said.

“There doesn’t seem to be a desire on the part of the administration to make any improvements or changes.”

In addition to examples of the varsity soccer coach’s disregard for the “safety, mental and emotional health” of the players, Lauricella said, she provided the administration with examples of “the principal and the athletic director using deceitful and bullying tactics against student-athletes in order to further their agenda, to cover up and protect their behavior, and avoid accountability and responsibility.”

The “most glaring example of this,” said Lauricella, was when McDougal “took the captaincy away” from her daughter and another student-athlete.

The outgoing soccer coach announced team captains, said Lauricella, but McDougal “ignored the wishes of the team and coach and announced a revote would take place.”

“He included all players on the freshman and junior varsity teams — most of whom did not know the varsity players and had never been on the field with them — to vote on varsity captains,” she said. “This has never happened before.”

Lauricella’s daughter was voted captain again, but the other student-athlete was not and “subsequently left the team midway through the season,” said Lauricella.

Lauricella said McDougal told her the student didn’t “deserve to be captain” and showed “favoritism over achievement” by choosing a third player to be a captain.

“This was the beginning of a series of bad events brought on by the reckless and irresponsible actions of Mr. McDougal,” said Lauricella.

“These actions taken by the coach, principal and athletic director are in direct conflict with the Wilton High School Athletics Department mission statement and the Wilton High School vision statement — not to mention the FCIAC and CIAC rules and guidelines.”

Lauricella said she was most disappointed and discouraged by “the dismissive attitude, the indifference and the unwillingness to address the problems and complaints presented to the administration” regarding the athletics department.

“The frustration among athletic families in town is rampant,” she said in November. “There are Wilton families who have issues with the football program, lacrosse program, gymnastics program and the soccer program, just to name a few.”

“The disdain and contempt the administration has demonstrated for the parents and students in Wilton that dare to ask questions and bring up issues is nothing short of remarkable.”

McDougal’s plan


During the education board’s March 10 meeting, McDougal presented a plan to “frame and address” these concern and “determine where improvements are needed,” which included a “process of continuous improvement through community involvement and partnership.”

“In light of concerns brought before the Wilton Board of Education,” McDougal said, “the athletic department has been conducting a review of current standard operating procedures (SOPs).”

McDougal said he has not only been developing procedures over the past several months to “help guide the decisions” made within the department, but has also identified several “important areas that require SOPs for the optimal functioning of the athletic department” — including, but not limited to, communication protocols with families and procedures for resolving conflicts — which will be operational for the 2016-17 school year.

Parents at the March 10 meeting, including Lauricella, weren’t buying it.

McDougal, who has been the director of the athletic department since March 2013, said the department’s goal is to “create a Wilton HIgh School Interscholastic Athletics Vision Statement that is aligned with and supportive of the district and high school vision statements.” This, he said, will be done through the formation of a Wilton High School Athletics Steering Committee, comprised of student-athletes, coaches, parents, community members and himself.

The committee will “develop a new vision statement and revise the core values for Wilton High School Interscholastic Athletics,” according to McDougal, and “look at all policies and procedures and ensure high quality standards for all stakeholders involved in athletics.”

Parent response


During public comment, Wilton parent Joe Eagan said McDougal’s plan is “probably the most empty rhetoric I have ever heard in my life.”

“After nine years in professional sports,” Eagan said, “I can tell you that nothing gets run by a steering committee. This is ridiculous.”

Joe Prinner, another Wilton parent, said McDougal’s plan lacks leadership and accountability.

“I don’t know who owns this program and I don’t see any leadership in solving it,” he said.

“I know what the students are going to do. I know what the parents are going to do. I know what the coaches are supposed to do [but] I don’t know what the athletic director is going to do, because there’s nothing in that plan that says he’s going to do anything.”

Prinner pointed out how the high school’s basketball program had a steering committee under McDougal’s direction in 2013-14, and one of its roles was to “alert the coaches of any issues brewing among a sizable portion of our constituency.”

“To me, that means that it’s an early warning system on how to hide issues,” he said.

Prinner said implementing a steering committee is not a solution, given the fact that the basketball program’s former committee “failed before under McDougal’s direction.”

“Do we think this athletic director has the leadership to implement a plan that can address the issues when the issues aren’t talked about?” he said.

Lauricella questioned how McDougal can “frame and address the concerns that have been raised and determine where improvements are needed when he’s demonstrated a severe lack of good judgment and humility?”

“Everybody knows that a leader has to have humility in order to change, and I don’t see it,” she said. “I don’t know where this memo gets us.”

Lauricella also questioned McDougal’s “commitment to developing skilled student-athletes and teams when he received several warnings from parents about the behavior and lack of development by the [former] girls soccer team coach.”

“Those warnings and concerns were dismissed with indifference, if not malice, while he supported a coach who just recently ‘resigned.’” she said.

Lauricella provided the education board with a list of questions regarding the athletic director and his department, which Board of Education Chair Bruce Likly said will be reviewed and answered at a later date.

Click here to read McDougal’s plan.