Lawrence Acad. players respond

They want to know reason for sanctions

By Mike Carraggi
Globe Correspondent / April 22, 2011

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The very talent that made the Lawrence Academy football program a source of controversy over the last two seasons is lashing out at the Independent School League after Tuesday’s unexplained sanctions, including stripping the school of a pair of league championships.

The Spartan players are being kept in the dark after the ISL imposed six penalties on the program. Their question is simple: “Why?’’

“I’ve been thinking about it all day, where did we go wrong?’’ asked Marcus Grant, one of six Lawrence Academy players from this past season who earned Division 1 college football scholarships, his to the University of Iowa. “I can’t think of anything. They won’t tell us what we’ve done wrong.’’

Quarterback and captain Mike Orloff shared Grant’s confusion.

“The headmaster [Scott Wiggins] told us that [the ISL] had some sanctions against us and we asked why, but he wouldn’t tell us,’’ said the UCLA-bound Orloff. “He said he knew but he wouldn’t tell us why.

“We didn’t break any rules and we didn’t do anything illegal and we don’t understand why this is being taken away from us.’’

Orloff and Grant also expressed their displeasure with a 35-point “cap,’’ discouraging the Spartans from blowing out opponents.

Orloff also revealed that the team was not allowed to hold captains’ practices or even use the weight room during the summer, and only was able to use it with restrictions during the season.

“We were winning games,’’ said Grant. “We thought the school would get behind that.’’

Some observers have been clamoring for change at Lawrence Academy, citing reasons from ridiculous — “I’ve been asked if I had three kids,’’ said the 19-year-old Grant — to reasonable, such as players staying for a sixth year of high school.

Orloff is the only sixth-year senior on the team, having attended Danvers High School for one year, Governor’s Academy for three, and now in his second year at Lawrence. NEPSAC rules state that as long as a player is 19 or younger on Sept. 1, he is eligible to play.

Running back Anthony Knight, who had transferred from Xaverian and repeated his junior year at Lawrence Academy (and has since transferred to Fitchburg High), heard the whispers of being a sixth-year senior.

“I’m a fifth-year senior, I turned 18 in September,’’ said Knight, who will play for the University of Nevada in the fall. “This absolutely [stinks], and the worst part is no one can give us a straight answer.’’

Rumors have only intensified with the ISL’s insistence on keeping mum as to why the heavy penalties were imposed, only offering a public statement that said Lawrence Academy’s football program acted contrary to the ISL’s “mission.’’

Orloff believed his team was doomed from the start.

“They had a group of other schools that we had beaten take our championships away,’’ he said.

One of the sanctions requires Lawrence Academy to “affirm in writing [that] . . . all varsity student-athletes who receive financial support from the school do so using a need-based analysis and not a merit-based scholarship.’’

The finances of former coach Mike Taylor, who recently resigned, have often been a talking point, including in a November story in the Globe. He has made large donations to Lawrence Academy, where his sons played football, and has paid for, among other things, a renovated field as well as weights, televisions, and equipment.

The questions linger. Was a donation made to the school’s general scholarship fund with knowledge that it would go to a specific athlete?

“Absolutely, Mike Taylor has made donations to Lawrence Academy,’’ said Winchester athletic director Brian Carroll, who preceded Taylor as football coach at Lawrence Academy. “Where the money went after that, I don’t know. But he also gave his time, and he was a really good friend to me. The Taylors gave of themselves to the school in more ways than just money.’’

Orloff, in a text message, said, “The school has asked Coach [Taylor] to donate to the school to help kids when the school ran out of financial aid. And this was not just football players, this was any kids who needed aid. And this happened even before he was coach.’’

Of all the questions surrounding the sanctions, the most important has been left unanswered. What did Lawrence Academy do wrong? It depends on who you ask.

“If [Taylor] bettering our futures was wrong, if him helping kids was wrong, then yeah, we broke a lot of rules,’’ said Grant.

Just don’t ask the ISL.