ISL sanctions Lawrence Academy

School stripped of 2 football titles

Lawrence Academy's former football coach Mike Taylor confers with quarterback Michael Orloff during a game against Belmont Hill School. Lawrence Academy's former football coach Mike Taylor confers with quarterback Michael Orloff during a game against Belmont Hill School. (Mark Wilson / Globe Photo)
By Bob Holmes
Globe Staff / April 21, 2011

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Lawrence Academy was stripped of its last two Independent School League football titles and prohibited from appearing in the postseason for the next three years, part of six penalties imposed on the Groton school by the ISL on Tuesday.

“The seriousness of the sanctions we have imposed reflects our commitment to ensure the safety and well-being of our student-athletes,’’ said a statement from ISL members and confirmed by Groton School headmaster and committee chairman Rick Commons yesterday.

But the sanctions don’t explain what Lawrence Academy did wrong, frustrating former coach Mike Taylor.

“I’m sad and disappointed,’’ said Taylor. “I don’t know the inner workings of any violations there were, if there were any violations. If I did commit any, I take full responsibility for them.’’

And if others are confused by the ISL’s statement?

“I’m in the same boat,’’ said Taylor. “If I did something, it was unintentional. My efforts were always to help kids out.’’

The Spartans went 8-0 in the regular season and won their second straight ISL title last fall, but the success came with controversy. In October, St. George’s forfeited its game with Lawrence Academy, citing safety concerns. As Lawrence Academy rolled through the regular season, suspicions grew that the school was doing something wrong to achieve that success.

In a November story in the Globe, Taylor spoke of the scrutiny and criticism his players were taking. The Spartans’ season ended with a 24-21 loss to Salisbury in a NEPSAC postseason bowl. Six Lawrence Academy players earned Division 1 college football scholarships and one, Dan Giovacchini, will play at Brown this fall. In February, Taylor resigned. Former BC High and Boston College star Paul Zukauskas was named coach last month. It appeared the controversy was over, until Tuesday. Lawrence Academy, through director of communications David Casanave, would only say, “Under advice of counsel, we’re not going to comment on underlying issues that led to the sanctions.’’

The school’s no comment aggravated one graduate who was e-mailed the statement.

“To not fully disclose what is going on is just the wrong way to treat your alumni and the rest of the school community,’’ wrote the graduate, who wished to be anonymous, in an e-mail.

ISL coaches and athletic directors were told not to comment on the sanctions.

The league’s public statement began, “Recently, the ISL has faced challenges to its mission resulting from individual situations as well as broad changes in the culture of high school athletics. One notable case involved concerns about the football program at Lawrence Academy.’’

The six ISL sanctions are:

1. To require Lawrence Academy to serve a three-year probationary period whereby any further violation of ISL standards may result in a membership vote to expel Lawrence Academy. During this period, the league expects Lawrence Academy to affirm on an annual basis that it is in full compliance with all standards, particularly with need-based financial aid practices. Also during this period, the league expects Lawrence Academy to reconstruct its football program to align all of its standards (particularly regarding coaching, recruiting, admission, financial aid processes, and offseason activity) with ISL standards.

2. To vacate both the 2009 and ’10 league titles in football.

3. To disallow Lawrence Academy from applying for a NEPSAC bowl game for three years.

4. To require Lawrence Academy to affirm in writing to the Presidents of the ISL Council and ISL Council Steering Committee by May 1 that for the upcoming school year, all varsity student-athletes who receive financial support from the school do so using a need-based analysis and not a merit-based scholarship.

5. To vacate the awarding to Lawrence Academy a forfeit of the Oct. 24 football game against St. George’s School, changing the recorded outcome to “no contest.’’

6. To request that Lawrence Academy make a formal written apology to the ISL.

Although no one employed by an ISL school would comment, others came to Taylor’s defense, upset he was being blamed for the school’s punishment.

“I am just so fed up with this story and how they’re painting Mike,’’ said Sean MacAdie, 30, an assistant coach under Taylor the past three years who will coach at Brookline High in the fall. “It is really frightening. It’s insane to me.

“[Athletic director Kathy Noble and headmaster Scott Wiggins] have blown up an amazing football program that one person created, and for what? I hope it was worth it for them. I’ve never been around a school with such incompetence in my life.’’

Taylor refrained from criticizing school officials.

“I just feel so bad for the kids,’’ he said. “At the end of the day, these kids work their tails off athletically and academically. If there was a mistake, it was an adult mistake. It wasn’t the kids.’’

Bob Holmes can be reached at