Three days after a parade of his supporters used the public comment portion of the Collingswood school board meeting to voice their opposition to the replacement of boys’ basketball coach Joseph McLoughlin, the man himself remains silent on the issue.
Repeated attempts by Collingswood Patch to contact McLoughlin both directly and through intermediaries have been unsuccessful. Similarly, calls to Collingswood High School (CHS) principal Ed Hill and athletic director Ron Hamrick have not been returned.
In the absence of answers, observers have been left to speculate about the rift between the 14-year coach and the administration that two years ago named him one of its teachers of the year.
The most nefarious accusations—that McLoughlin refused to comply with a secret order to recruit and play more white basketball players—were leveled by Collingswood resident Blackwell Albertson.
“Is this decision being made because Joe McLaughlin would not follow the directives of this administration that his basketball team does not reflect the complexion of the color of the skin of this town?” Albertson asked the board Tuesday night. “That’s discrimination.”
Another Collingswood resident, Mike Jackson, told the board, “I don’t know what’s going on in the background, but you need to reconsider because it’s a mistake if you proceed forward on the path that’s been set.”
David White, father of former CHS basketball standout Julian Welsh-White, says he believes McLoughlin’s recruitment of rec-league basketball players—most of whom were black—chafed administrators.
“I didn’t like the way the Collingswood boys' basketball team was treated by the principal and the athletic director,” White told Patch Thursday.
White said law enforcement officials are always visible at CHS basketball games, and the school strongly enforces a no-hats-no-hoods dress code. Although rival schools like Haddonfield blare rap music prior to games to motivate their players, White says he was told that the music played before CHS basketball games needed to be kept to a more reasonable volume.
“They didn’t want to play the music loud,” White said. “I had a word with Mr. Hill, and he said he did not want to project this kind of environment. Then he told me two weeks later that the PA system was malfunctioning. This is Collingswood. It’s not like you’re going to Woodrow Wilson (High School in Camden).”
White even went as far as to speculate that the motivation for McLoughlin’s departure could be related to an unhappy alumni booster—although he didn’t name any names.
In a district that distributes tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships, he says decision-makers may have been compelled to protect students financially.
“There might be someone in the community who’s seeing this so-called discoloration in the basketball team and said ‘if I don’t see enough Caucasians playing on the team in a couple of years than I’m going to pull my $10,000 contributions to the scholarships from this school’,” White said.
Julian Welsh-White said unequivocally that he never saw McLoughlin discourage or dissuade white players from trying out for the CHS boys’ basketball team. Time and again, he said, players with whom he’d shared the court in middle school opted out on their own because they believed they wouldn’t make the cut.
“The fact of the matter is that hardly any white players tried out,” Welsh-White said. “They didn’t give themselves the chance to make the team. They didn’t have the confidence to play and they just assumed they wouldn’t make it.”
But Superintendent Scott Oswald says that nothing related to the ethnic makeup of McLoughlin’s teams factored into the proposal to appoint a new coach.
“He knows what those issues are,” Oswald told Patch Thursday. “He can tell you what those issues are. He’s choosing not to.”
Oswald reinforced his position that the decision was his alone, and that he had met with the embattled coach and his teachers’ association representative to describe very specifically the reasons behind the move.
“If he had secret recordings, why in five years haven’t I heard them?” Oswald asked, referring to a comment by Albertson on Tuesday that McLoughlin has some sort of bombshell evidence that will substantiate the claims of discrimination.
“I have nothing against Joe, but with this mess, he’s lost my respect,” the superintendent said.