Westbrook school officials began another investigation into misconduct by student-athletes Wednesday, a day after police broke up an underage drinking party and arrested a player on Westbrook High School’s baseball team.
Westbrook police said they also issued court summonses to 11 other people who were at the party at 6 Sargent St. late Tuesday night.
Sgt. Anthony Ciampi said Ryan Gilligan, 18, who lives at 6 Sargent St., was arrested on misdemeanor charges of providing a place for minors to drink and refusing to submit to arrest.
Gilligan, a senior who is an outfielder on Westbrook High’s defending state championship baseball team, was taken to the Cumberland County Jail after his arrest. He was released Wednesday after posting bail. A message left on his home telephone was not returned Wednesday night.
Police described the party, which was reported at 11:40 p.m., as “loud and large.” They say they found that people younger than 21 were drinking alcohol.
Less than six months ago, about 30 Westbrook High student-athletes were suspended from their teams for drinking. Those suspensions were soon overturned, prompting an outcry from the community, an independent investigation and an ongoing discussion about the school’s alcohol policies and enforcement.
Westbrook schools’ Athletic Director Marc Sawyer said Wednesday that the students who allegedly were at Tuesday’s party play on several of the high school’s sports teams, not just the varsity baseball team. He said he was told that more than 25 people were at the party.
Sawyer said the high school’s investigation had just begun Wednesday and was complicated by the fact that the school is on spring break. He would not provide any details about the incident and said he didn’t know how many students were involved.
He will present the results of his investigation to Principal Jon Ross on Monday, once everyone has returned from vacation.
Ross told a reporter Wednesday night, “I can’t believe that I’m talking to you now,” after the events of the last six months, about another underage drinking party in Westbrook. “We’ve still got kids making poor choices.”
He said he told Sawyer to notify all of the high school’s coaches about the party and encourage them to get their athletes to take responsibility if they were involved.
“My hope is that a student will have the integrity to turn themselves in to their coach,” Ross said. “The best thing they can do is to ’fess up.”
Last fall, the athletes were suspended for violating a code of conduct that prohibits students in extracurricular activities from being “knowingly present” where there’s alcohol. Because of a discrepancy in the interpretation of that clause, administrators deemed their investigation flawed and lifted all of the suspensions, enabling several football players to participate in a playoff game the same day.
That triggered accusations of favoritism for athletes.
The school department hired an investigator, John Alfano, to look into the handling of the discipline.
Although Alfano didn’t accuse school officials of malfeasance in his report, he faulted them and parents for failing to support high school administrators. He also called for a change in the school’s “unenforceable” code of conduct, which is now under review.
After the report was released, the school department organized a series of community forums, including one held on April 15, to discuss substance abuse by youths.
Also this month, Sawyer announced that he would resign as athletic director at the end of June, saying he and members of the community had a “difference in philosophy” about holding students accountable for their actions.
In his resignation letter, Sawyer said he was unable to improve Westbrook’s athletic and activities program because of “the incestuous culture of the community, individuals placing their own needs ahead of the overall group, and the inability for many to understand appropriate boundaries.”
Alfano said in his report that a school board member whose son was among those suspended last fall gave the appearance of influencing the investigation.
Ray Richardson, a Westbrook resident who is a radio talk show host, has called for the resignation of School Committee member Suzanne Joyce for her role in the handling of the suspensions.
Superintendent Marc Gousse returned Wednesday from a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and said he was just beginning to learn about the incident.
Though he did not know any details, Gousse said that if the allegations are true, “I find it very disappointing, frustrating and exasperating.”
He said the Westbrook school community has tried to be proactive in leading a campaign against underage drinking by hosting the forums and doing educational outreach.
“Once again, we may have another example of a community issue being brought into the schools. My first question would be: where were the parents?” Gousse said.
Gousse said Sawyer must present his investigative findings to the high school principal. Any student-athlete who is implicated will be given a chance to present his or her side of the story, at which point a decision will be made on whether to discipline the student.
Westbrook’s code of conduct holds student-athletes and students who participate in other extracurricular activities to higher standards, Gousse said.
“We have a lot of great kids and community members in Westbrook,” he said. “If this turns out to be the case (that student-athletes were at the party), it should not define our community.”
Westbrook Public Safety Director Michael Pardue plans to release more details about the party on Thursday.
Pardue said officers hadn’t yet written a report on the incident Wednesday and he didn’t have the names of those who received summonses, or the charges against them. Pardue said he didn’t know how many of the party guests are students at Westbrook High.
The Westbrook baseball team is scheduled to host Portland High School on Friday morning. Coach Greg Souza said he did not know whether any of his players were at the party.
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:
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