Boston Globe

A closed gate at Trinity Stadium, home of the Haverhill High School football team, on Thursday. Jim Davis / The Boston Globe

HAVERHILL – The state’s top high school sports official said Thursday he was “really disheartened and disappointed” alleged hajs incident here prompting police to investigate and cancel a high school Thanksgiving football game against Lowell High School.

The school administration canceled the game, the last of the season, on Wednesday after a video emerged that allegedly showed members of the Haverhill High School soccer team harassing a teenage boy, district officials said. Police are investigating and members of the team’s coaching staff have been placed on administrative leave.

Bob Baldwin, executive director of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, the state’s governing body for high school sports, said the allegations were shocking.

“When you proactively try to stop it and feel like you’re making progress, you start to have the delusion that everything is fine, and then you get hit with that reality,” Baldwin said in an interview on Thursday.

He said on Wednesday Baldwin attended a workshop for schools on the urgency of eliminating bullying, bullying and discrimination in sport.

“We’re just going to have to work harder,” Baldwin said.

At the school committee meeting in Haverhill on Thursday evening, Mayor James Fiorentini and Superintendent Margaret Marotta read statements condemning the students’ alleged actions and said further disciplinary action is expected.

Marotta said school authorities first became aware of the allegations of “misconduct” against “certain members of the football team” last week, before the video surfaced. She said the school had launched an investigation and “preliminary consequences have been imposed”.

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Haverhill Supt. of Schools Margaret Marotta watches and listens as the Mayor of Haverhill remotely reads a statement regarding the alleged hallucinatory incident with the football team during the Haverhill Schools Committee meeting at Haverhill Town Hall on Thursday. – Jim Davis / The Boston Globe

But when officials saw the video, “it became completely clear that our investigation was not about an isolated incident and unfortunately many players were part of this misconduct or were aware of this misconduct.” She He said.

Marotta said the school is cooperating with police and the district attorney’s office in their investigation. She declined to comment after the meeting.

Fiorentini said any student found to be involved in the incident should be banned from playing any sport at Haverhill High School.

“We have to admit that we may have a bigger problem here, a problem of a culture that talks about violent behavior [and] bullying is acceptable, at least in sports,” he said.

Dozens of adults and teenagers filled the city council halls for Thursday’s meeting.

“It’s really depressing that all students are being punished” – Abigail Brown, a – said the senior and vice-president of the student government in an interview before the meeting.

“We didn’t just have the game taken away for Thanksgiving – for seniors, one of our biggest new events is the turkey throw,” she said, apparently referring to a fun competition hosted by Kiss 108 radio station. “We can’t go anymore. Many people are appalled by this, including me. It’s very annoying.”

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Abigail Brown, Vice-President of the Haverhill High School Student Council, read a statement regarding the alleged football incident during a Haverhill School Committee meeting held at City Hall on Thursday evening. – Jim Davis / The Boston Globe

Morgan Flaherty said seniors like her are taking the decision to cancel the celebration especially hard.

“All seniors are affected by this. Those who play miss their last game as ‘Hillie’,” she said, using the school’s nickname. “But everyone is looking forward to this match.”

Flaherty said she was disgusted by the recording.

“Of course it was disturbing,” she said. “People should be punished. But not the whole school.

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Haverhill High School student Morgan Flaherty spoke to the Haverhill school committee Thursday night. – Jim Davis / The Boston Globe

City Council Vice President John A. Michitson said in an interview that he supports the school’s decision to cancel the Thanksgiving game.

“I think the Schools Department is taking swift action,” Michitson said. “You always hope things like this don’t happen in your town.”

“I have a strong belief that the education system will approach the matter very professionally” – he added.

Last year, Massachusetts reported an alarming number of incidents of bullying in high school athletics, with cases of violent intimidation, harassment, and racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic abuse. In April, Attorney General Maura Healey organized a meeting of school principals and policy makers to address the issue.

“Hazing is a dangerous offense and has no place in Massachusetts,” Healey said Thursday through a spokeswoman. “We will be contacting school and law enforcement officials for more information on this incident and to offer assistance.”

Fiorentini said he was in contact with Healey’s office on Thursday. He said the office recommended that the school connect with The Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University to discuss plans to combat issues related to negative culture in sports teams.

Lowell Mayor Sokhary Chau said canceling the match, while disappointing to the players and his city, was the right decision under the circumstances.

“I applaud them for making this difficult decision,” said Chau. “It has a huge impact on us.”

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Trinity Stadium, the home ground of the Haverhill High School soccer team. – Jim Davis / The Boston Globe

Chau said Lowell and Haverhill have been competing on Thanksgiving Day for decades, contests that bring “the whole community together.”

However, he said students need to feel safe when participating in school activities.

“We want our young adults to learn to respect each other,” said Chau. He said the school district’s athletic director, Lowell, is looking for alternative activities for the team around Thanksgiving.

Incident video, shipped to Boston 25 The news appears to show three teenage boys – one wearing a Haverhill football shirt – dragging another teenager across the locker room floor. The channel shows a fourth teenager in underwear twerking in the victim’s face.

Asked whether Haverhill’s head football coach Tim O’Connor should remain in his post, Michitson he said, “I think the action taken by the School Department is now appropriate” until all the facts are gathered.

Neither O’Connor nor sporting director Thomas O’Brien could be reached for comment immediately.

A spokesman for Haverhill Police confirmed on Thursday that the department was “investigating the allegation of child molestation and is cooperating with the District Attorney’s Office”.

School officials said Wednesday that the district will not tolerate any form of harassment, harassment or retaliation.

“Any such misconduct will be dealt with quickly and will undoubtedly have lasting repercussions for all those involved,” school officials said.

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Haverhill High School. – Jim Davis / The Boston Globe

The incident occurred during the most ambitious campaign in state history by government, school and human rights leaders to reduce harassment, bullying and discriminatory practices in interschool sports.

On Thursday, MIAA contacted Haverhill administrators to offer their support and sent a newsletter from Baldwin to the association’s 385 member schools, which focused mainly on a campaign to end misconduct in athletics.

“The message needs to continue to get through so that we can move from having no incidents of this kind per year to zero tolerance where there are no injuries in our sports programs,” said Dan Lebowitz, executive director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society, which has January through June will lead a series of regional training sessions for schools and student-athletes across the state.

Travis Andersen from the Globe team contributed to this report.

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