Matthew Duhaine, a senior on the football team at Brunswick High School, addressing the school board alongside teammates. C. Thacher Carter / The Times Record

Members of the Brunswick High football community are voicing concerns about consequences and ridicule facing players who were not directly involved in the August hazing incident.

The hazing happened during a team retreat at Thomas Point Beach and prompted the school department to open an investigation, which included an outside attorney. The investigation concluded in early October and, according to a report by The Portland Press Herald, was sparked when school officials were told on Sept. 2 that a player was held down and a sex toy was put into his mouth during the retreat.

Following the school’s investigation, several players were removed from the team, longtime football coach Daniel Cooper was fired and the remainder of the 2021 football season was canceled.

A police investigation regarding the incident continues, Brunswick Chief of Police Scott Stewart said Wednesday. According to Superintendent Phil Potenziano, policies related to hazing, bullying, harassment, sexual harassment, violence and school safety were considered during the disciplinary process.

Roughly 50 parents, football players and other community members attended Wednesday’s school board meeting, the first in the wake of the decision to call off the football season. Ida Beal, the parent of a Brunswick High School football player, was among those that spoke.

“We are not here to challenge the investigative tactics, we are not here to challenge the outcomes for the few who have been held accountable, we are not here to fight for the return of any coach,” said Beal. “We are here to discuss how the actions of a few student-athletes have had a ripple effect that has been cast onto an entire program.”

Due to the school’s handling of the situation, Beal said, players who weren’t involved in the incident have at times refused to go to school because of “the conduct of teachers” and avoided community involvement due to ridicule.

“I am not attempting to lessen any actions that took place at Thomas Point Beach, I am merely here to discuss what has transpired after the fact,” said Matthew Duhaine, a senior on the Brunswick football team. “We were intimidated by the administration, bullied by teachers as well as other students. They grouped the team as a whole, talked behind our backs, to our faces, and some teachers openly scolded the team in their classrooms.”

The crowd of Brunswick football players and parents at Wednesday’s school board meeting. C. Thacher Carter / The Times Record

The release of an investigation with minimal public information, according to Duhaine, allowed false stories to spread about coaches and players, impacting the mental health teammates and himself. “We were guilty in the eyes of the public before the investigation was complete,” said Duhaine.

Multiple attempts Wednesday night to get further comment from other football parents were declined or ignored.

“I think that you heard tonight the passion and some anger,” Potenziano said. “It’s a big disruption. This was a big decision. We didn’t do it lightly and we feel like it really was truly in the best interest of our students. Furthermore, there’s information that the public will not know that we are not able to discuss … ”

Potenziano said he was supportive of the participation at the meeting, and is appreciative of those who have come forward to discuss the situation with him. However, Potenziano said, he ultimately stands by the disciplinary actions taking by the school department regarding the incident.

“I met with a family yesterday, and they brought up some really good points about what we could have done a little differently, some of our messaging, some of our meetings with parents, students, football players, we could have done things a little bit differently,” Potenziano said. “I recognize that.”

Those that spoke at the meeting also voiced support for reinstating the upcoming two football seasons, which due to rules set forth by the Maine Principal Association, may be canceled since the remainder of the 2021 season was forfeited.

Brunswick school department is in the process of filing an appeal with the MPA, and Potenziano said the district is supportive of bringing back the next two seasons, and will do everything possible to remove those sanctions.

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