School Board Parts Ways with Coach Joe McLoughlin, Opens Bias Investigation

After hours of testimonials from supporters of the long-tenured coach, Collingswood's school board upheld the recommendation it had tabled at its May meeting to replace him.

It felt less like a school board meeting and more like the closing moments of It’s a Wonderful Life, but when it was all over, there was no happy ending for Collingswood High School (CHS) boys' basketball coach Joseph McLoughlin or any of his numerous supporters.

By the end of its meeting Monday night, the had a room of constituents crying out, “Shame on you,” while NBC-10 camera crews waited on the steps of to interview the principal speakers.

The board unanimously approved its roster of high school athletic coaches for 2012-13, and for the first time in years, McLoughlin’s name was not on the list.

To the nearly 100 people gathered, that was the most important item approved on an agenda that also included the ratification of a three-year collective bargaining agreement between the district and its teachers, a new math curriculum, and the transfer of an $100,000 anticipated surplus into its year-end capital reserves.

The gesture was by no means lost on the long-time coach, a veteran special education teacher who listened, often brimming with emotion, as the people whose lives he has touched came forth in defense of him.

“It feels great,” said McLoughlin, the winningest coach in Collingswood boys' basketball program. “My former players, parents, everyone—we’re a Collingswood basketball family. You can see the love that we have.”

“As an educator, that’s what it’s about for me,” he added.

Secret tapes?

Amid the warmth, however, were numerous, vague and ugly allegations of biased mistreatment of Collingswood students, either by CHS administrators or at their direction. .

According to Joe Betley, solicitor for the , the allegations were serious enough—accompanied by blind threats—that he recommended that the board hire an independent investigator to look into them.

“There are anonymous letters, tapes of things that were said 13 years ago,” Betley said. “These allegations are very serious … reputations that are being sullied. Let’s get to the facts.”

Betley’s recommendation, which the board approved, was to hire Haddonfield Borough Commissioner Edward Borden to investigate the claims at a rate of $250 per hour for a maximum of 40 hours.

Dennis Young, McLoughlin’s attorney, called the decision unnecessary.

“You decided to hire an investigator for a decision that you just made,” Young said. “It makes no sense.”

Out in the open

Earlier in the evening, Young had handed the board a letter waiving McLoughlin’s right to privacy in the matter of his non-renewal, and invited them to discuss, in an open forum, their reasons for removing the coach.

“Whatever that discussion reveals, I will avail myself and Joe will avail himself to answer any question that comes up so that this board is in a fair position to make a decision,” Young said.

“At the end of the day, Joe wants to coach basketball for Collingswood High School next year.”

At the advice of solicitor Betley, the board did not honor this request. Members convened a closed session for about 15 minutes before emerging to approve unanimously the list of 2012-13 coaches as written in the agenda.

According to that document, McLoughlin will be replaced next year by Arcadia University men’s basketball coach .

After the meeting, board president James Hatzell said “it’s utter nonsense” that the decision to replace McLoughlin “had anything to do with who was played on the court.”

“For anybody to suggest that our board would allow such a decision to be made on race, I find utterly offensive,” Hatzell said. “There were employee-employer issues.”

Hatzell said that the decision to not renew McLoughlin’s contract “admittedly put us in a tough situation with the public,” but he also said that he understood the outpouring of support for the coach.

“I think they love Joe and Joe made a mark on their children, and they have every right to do this,” he said. “I have nothing to say against him as a man.”

Allegations, accusations and blame

Superintendent Scott Oswald, who issued the recommendation not to retain McLoughlin as coach, spoke briefly at the meeting about how he was personally hurt by the allegations that he or the board are racist.

Oswald talked about donating $25,000 of his own money in scholarships to minority students at CHS “who had life’s deck stacked against [them],” and paying out-of-pocket to send kids on the senior trip who might not otherwise have been able to afford it.

“And last month and tonight, in front of a well-orchestrated meeting of supporters, that was all swept away by people who didn’t have all the facts,” Oswald said.

Even as he spoke, the crowd murmured, “no…no…nobody was saying it was you.”

Yet even if they didn’t blame him in their accusations, other guests at the meeting took Oswald to task directly for his decision to remove the coach.

Leslie Simone-Jackson, whose son played on the CHS basketball team, said that after she heard some of the inflammatory recordings, she was moved to contact Oswald to talk about “what we had to do to bring more diversity into Collingswood.

“What was more discouraging was to listen to those tapes and then hear that you knew what was going on,” Simone-Jackson said.

“Joe McLoughlin was a bridge to that diversity,” she said. “You asked how we were going to make others of different ethnicities feel comfortable here. He’s one of those ways.”

Reaching out

Collingswood alumnus Julian Welsh-White tried to put his experience into perspective for board members.

“Maybe there are some people in the audience asking why there’s no minorities on the board,” Welsh-White said. “Maybe it’s because you’re all the best. Joe McLoughlin takes the same approach.”

Camden High School girls’ basketball coach Paul Turcotte, who served as an assistant under McLoughlin, talked about how the coach's agenda was always character-driven.

Practices on Martin Luther King Day featured guest speakers instead of drills, and everyone from the top scorer to the bench-warmers participated in food drives for needy families.

“I started jotting things down to remember about my tenure with McLoughlin,” Turcotte said. “Surprisingly, none of them were from the basketball court.”

Resident Dan Swinehart tried to appeal to the board individually by emphasizing his personal connection to each of them.

“I’m close with David [Routzahn],” he said. “I coach with Steve [Rydzewski]. Lisa [Soulos] did work on our house. Fiona [Henry] was my daughter’s tutor.”

Gerry Matthews, who coaches men’s basketball at Richard Stockton College, told the board, “Your town needs [McLoughlin] to keep moving forward.

“I don’t know your town. I don’t live here,” Matthews said. “This is your town. Embrace your town. Your town is here telling you what they think.”

Colls teacher June 26, 2012 at 05:55 PM
Thank you Beverly. I wished I could have been there. I personally do not know anyone who could say bad things about Joe. Joe has a big heart and is great with the kids.
Mike King June 26, 2012 at 10:03 PM
By now you've realized fantastic Camden athletes often come with less than fantastic test scores. At this time, with your supt. fighting off a shared superintendency, the dirty secret may have nothing to do with racism and lots to do with bringing up high stakes test scores that could cost you a bundle in state funding. I could be wrong about this but I'm probably not.
Collingswood Mom June 26, 2012 at 11:09 PM
This is absolutely unbelievable to me, that the BOE would treat Joe McLoughlin in such a reprehensible fashion. The allegations are not specified and yet, a man who is a long-time respected teacher and coach -- who by the way, is honorable, decicated, sincere and trustworthy -- is let go without a shred of support from at least ONE Board member? Two of my three children had Joe McLoughlin as a teacher and he ALWAYS emphasized respect and fairness in all matters. He was an inspiration to them on many levels for these many years afterwards. As soon as I read that a BOE member felt it necessary to issue a disclaimer stating that the decision to replace McLoughlin had nothing to do with who was played on the court and they had to go back 13 years for these vague "allegations," my immediate reaction was "OK...whose BOE member's kid didn't he play enough?" Because, after all, this is the Collingswood Way: you're OK as long as you (excuse the pun) play ball with the Powers That Be, but as soon as you don't....you're out. This little nasty piece of business makes me glad that my children are all done with Collingswood's schools....and that my grandchildren go to school in a different district. I'm sure some other team will snap Joe McLoughlin up and we will lose one of the best, if not THE best, teacher-coach Collingswood's ever had.
Porterincollingswood June 26, 2012 at 11:45 PM
True, but is that worth $10,000?
Mike King June 27, 2012 at 12:21 AM
Hellooooo. Your BOE will sacrifice 100 Joe McLoughlins to save themselves from the 'shared services' mandate headed for all the tiny districts in S. Jersey. You would be sickened at the number of top notch teachers like Joe who pay the price for this every year. Joe's union has a 47.5% teacher attrition rate. Only you parents can put your BOE on notice.
Colls Parent June 27, 2012 at 03:37 AM
I have been very upset since last night's board meeting however I have to say how emotional I was then and am still now.When I watched Ms.Soto and Mr.Albertsen talking about the Dempseys and their mom and his son with tears in their eyes,I then looked at Coach McLoughlin and saw the tears in his eyes.Like she said, it didn't have anything to do with basketball.It had to do with a coach who only cared about comforting others during a difficult time.That's who is in addition to being a great coach.It was evident the impact he has made on so many people on and off the court.That's what is so sad about this situation and by what I heard last night this is a story that is far from over. I am going to post an article that is special to me as it relates to Ms. Dempsey.
Colls Parent June 27, 2012 at 03:41 AM
Team supports players who lost mom to cancer By KEVIN CALLAHAN Courier-Post Staff COLLINGSWOOD Justin Dempsey remembers sitting with his head in his hands, trying his best to hide the tears. He still would like to forget missing a couple of crucial free throws in the final ticks of a close loss to a highly ranked team last year. Recently, the star forward on the Collingswood High School boys' basketball team recalled both - sitting there crying and coming up empty at the foul line against rival Haddonfield. However, what Dempsey, now a senior, remembers most was his coach Joe McLoughlin coming up to him afterward in their home locker room, wrapping his arms around him and telling him that missing those free throws wasn't what was important in life. Dempsey remembers his coach telling him how proud he was that Justin and his brother, Jon - who was sixth-man on last year's 19-7 team - were taking care of their dying mother, Shirley. "To have a coach that cares about us," Justin said softly at practice earlier this week. "There aren't a lot of coaches out there like that." Just five months after Justin missed those foul shots, Shirley died in August at the age of 42 of brain cancer. She had battled the disease for two years. All the time, the Dempsey brothers cared for her while carrying on their own lives.
Colls Parent June 27, 2012 at 03:55 AM
Now, the brothers and their teammates have dedicated the upcoming basketball season to their mother. "She'll be looking down," Justin Dempsey said.
Colls Parent June 27, 2012 at 03:56 AM
McLoughlin knew the brothers' mother, Shirley, was dying. Sadly, he had seen both his father, John, and mother, Joan, die of cancer, too. And, like the Dempsey brothers, he helped to care - along with his brothers and sister - for his dad and mom when they were dying. "When he was younger, he went through the same thing," said the 6-foot-3 Justin, who needs 260 points to pass Steve Selby's 27-year-old school scoring record of 1,311 points. "He knows what we go through." McLoughlin recalls the game last season against Haddonfield. "I remember it like yesterday," McLoughlin said. "In the final three minutes, Justin, who is an excellent free-throw shooter, missed four free throws in that time. I came up to him and said, `Justin, hold your head up.' "He said, `Coach, I let the team down.' "I turned to him and whispered in his ear, `Justin, you didn't let the team down. What you do every day caring for your mother is far more important than making those free throws.' " McLoughlin makes sure his team is reminded that basketball is just a game each time they put their hands in during a huddle. Most teams say "defense" or "team" or "win." The Panthers yell "family." Their family on the basketball court is how the Dempseys are able to get through each day after the death of their mother.
Colls Parent June 27, 2012 at 03:58 AM
"What we are doing right now, by playing basketball," Justin said, looking out over the Collingswood gym floor at his teammates doing the Boston Celtics' fastbreak drill, "we got a lot of support from our teammates, they pick us up every day - we like being on this team." "We want to thank our whole team," Jon said. "Because of my mom's funeral, we couldn't make it to one of our playoff games in the summer league and after the game the whole team came and told us that we won. We were down by about 15 points and our assistant coach Mike McKeown said to win this game for us and our mom and they came back and won." One of their teammates has picked them up off the court, too. The Dempseys now live with Joey Soto, a teammate who graduated last year. Ironically, Soto scored his 1,000th point at Collingswood on the same night as Justin Dempsey last year. "They have a good thing going here, they had something here," Soto said about wanting his friends to stay in Collingswood and not move somewhere else. "I didn't want them to lose their friends here." Soto's mother, Yvonne, was best friends with Shirley, and so she invited the boys to live with them. "I thank her a lot that we are able to stay here and play basketball for Collingswood," Justin said. Added Jon: "We grew up here, we went to school since first grade here, it is nice that we didn't have to pack up and go."
Colls Parent June 27, 2012 at 04:01 AM
Both Justin and Jon have tattoos on their shoulders - Praying Hands with "Mom R.I.P 1962-2004" to honor their mother. On their forearms, they each have a cross tattoo and Justin has the words "Mommy I love U." Soto, who attends Gloucester County College, also went the same day with the Dempseys to get inked. His tattoo on his right forearm reads: "R.I.P Shirley". "I was really close to Miss Shirley, too," Soto said. "When she was sick, I would go over and see her." Now, once a week, the Dempsey brothers and Soto visit her grave in Willingboro. "I'm always going to think about it," said Jon, a 6-foot-2 junior who's also a star running back/linebacker for the Panthers football team. "I just play sports to have fun and everything I do is dedicated to her." The entire Panthers basketball team dedicated this season to the Dempseys' mother. "The hardest is when we win a game, is not to be able to go home and tell her that we won," Justin said. "That is what we always did when my mom couldn't come to the games." "She couldn't come to all our games last year," Jon said. "Sometimes it was too cold outside for her to come." The Dempseys know this season will be difficult. But they know they will have support from Soto, their friend, and McLoughlin, their coach.
Colls Parent June 27, 2012 at 04:01 AM
"Being in coaching, the education profession, you have the opportunity to provide guidance to young adults and when I first found out their mother was diagnosed with cancer, I knew exactly what I had to do," said McLoughlin, who quickly credited assistant coaches Wes Topeka, Eric Mahoney and McKeown for helping the Dempseys as well as fostering the family atmosphere at Collingswood. "As a coach to them, and as a person who has walked in their shoes, I wanted to alleviate any fears that they may have had at that time." This season, there won't be any fears of missing a foul shot.
Monko June 27, 2012 at 02:42 PM
The Board of Ed promised at the last meeting to thoroughly investigate this situation, but apparently didn't actually contact anyone outside of their own committees and subcommittees. They didn't even make an attempt to make it LOOK like they'd done anything. President Jim Hatzell said he spent 20 hours discussing this situation with other members of the board, but where was anyone's information coming from? The answer, I assume - Superintendent Scott Oswald. I was engaged in an unrelated dispute about this administration's reckless behavior and was promised that a committee would be assigned to contact me to gather information/documentation about the case and discuss my appeal. I was later notified that the committee had met and decided against me, based on evidence provided solely by Superintendent Scot Oswald, one of the central figures in my dispute, without asking me a single question or providing me the opportunity to present documentation demonstrating, in the opinion of everyone else who has seen it, that he was willing to jeopardize my daughter's well-being. So that's the way things get done, and, barring any sweeping change, we can expect more of the same. What's puzzling is that the Board is supposed to be working for our community and Scott Oswald is working for the Board. How does he wind up wielding this kind of power over them?
Monko June 27, 2012 at 02:54 PM
It was puzzling that although their was a public outcry for the reason Mr. McLaughlin was being fired, and Mr. McLaughlin had submitted a legally binding document waving his right to privacy in this matter, and requested, via his lawyer, that these reasons be discussed publicly, and made it clear that he felt the real reason he was being fired was for not complying with the racist requests of some person or persons in the administration, the Board determined, based on their lawyer's advice, that this would be "inappropriate". Firing Joe McLaughlin publicly, prior to mounting any kind of investigation...well, clearly that's "appropriate". I'm not even suggesting that his allegations have merit, I have no idea, but why not table the decision until they've acquired the results of the investigation. It's ludicrous.
Karen Peters June 27, 2012 at 03:40 PM
The issue in Collingswood, NJ is and remains the need for diversity. You can count the number of minority teachers working in the district on one hand. You certainly don't have any minority principals or administrators. And please don't try to add in the couple of custodial staff, which by the way is also not diverse. The whole district needs to be investigated for a lack of diversity and a blatant effort to keep the town "white". Minority children do not get to see positive role models that look like themselves. And the minority children are increasing their presence in the district.... Thanks to the Heights.....Deal with it! Or get "left behind......"
lin delape June 27, 2012 at 04:25 PM
I just cannot believe this. So glad my kids are all raised.The borough residents need to demand what the true cause is here.
B June 27, 2012 at 04:32 PM
I hope the community votes these members out of office because instead of representing those that voted for them they chose to side with Mr. Oswald. We deserve board members that will represent the public and their best interest.
jz gal June 27, 2012 at 05:05 PM
so how does a collingswood resident help in future ? to ensure those who have done wrong (Oswald) & (BOE) eventually are also removed from their position; of course far more wrong than a very well respected & successful coach/teacher could ever do wrong.......?
B June 27, 2012 at 06:42 PM
They either run for school board themselves, or they make sure to spread the word come board election time not to vote for the same people that created this mess.
Anne Carroll June 27, 2012 at 09:03 PM
I'm horrified. Had heard rumors Collingswood was racist but really did not believe it until reading this. I don't have kids in Colls schools (way too old and anyway, never had kids.) Prior to this story, I just ignored the Colls Board of Education and its elections. You can bet I'll pay attention now.
Porterincollingswood June 27, 2012 at 09:28 PM
And we have our winner, repeating unsubstantiated gossip as fact and painting the town's residents with a broad brush. Way to go! If a white kid happens to be among the best 5 players and starts next season (yeah, I know) it'll be people like Anne that boo him at tip-off. And don't think that can't happen.
Time to move on June 28, 2012 at 10:38 AM
I use to have a ton of respect for Joe but after all this I have to say it is all gone. What he is turning this into will diminish everything he did the past 14 years as a basketball coach and teacher. I do not want to hear that he is standing up for what is right. That is a bunch of bull crap. He is letting people USE him for their own personal agenda. Tell me Morris Smith and his Attorney not enjoying some great P.R. on behalf of Collingswood Community and Joe Mcloughlin. One giant point in all this that no one seems to say is, being a basketball coach or any coach is a NON tenure position. Every year that job can be awarded to whomever the school board approves. If RON Hamrick the athletic Director (Joe's Boss) Decided that he wanted to go in a diffrent direction for the basketball program then move the hell on. DO I personally think that is a bad move, YES I DO, but that is what the AD decided to do. It happens everyday in America, good people and hard workers lose their dam job. Lets just stop with this white black race crap. whats next Joe going to sue the School district and then tell us how it is about the kids not him. One last comment I was not at the Board meeting but can someone answer this question for me please. Why did not one single colonial confrence coach speak on Joe's behalf? Not One. If you coach in the same confrence for 14 years with the coaches like (Wister, Ricci, Weideman, etc) tells me more then I need to know about Joe McLoughlin.
GFY June 28, 2012 at 12:47 PM
While it’s true that people lose their jobs, I think in most cases they are told why they are losing it. And according to what Mr. Oswald said, it was his decision not Hamerick’s. And I don’t think that is supposed to be the role of a super intendant. As far as the coaches that spoke, I wasn’t there either so I don’t know who was there or not there and neither do you. As far as Wister goes, his wife works at the school so there is no way in hell he would have been there for fear of retribution from the great King Oswald. And Weideman is from Haddonfiled. Nuff said.
GFY June 28, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Collingswood is not racist. Are there racist people that live there? Absolutely. But it’s going overboard to paint the town that way.
Monko June 28, 2012 at 06:40 PM
Porterincollingswood, if McGloughlin's allegations are factual, do you still think he should shut up and walk away? Why do you think the board refuses to divulge the reasons for his dismissal? If the reasons are legitimate, maybe rhey'd get some public support. I understand they don't NEED to state a reason, but with so much public outcry, it seems awkward not to. Evidence shows that Joe is a winning coach who is respected by players, parents and peers, he treats his players with respect, instilla the importance of education over basketball skills, demonstrates compassion towards the players and their families, rallies them around him to support those in need, yet we feel we need to "move in a different direction"? What direction could that possibly be? My son is in Joe's class and is a member of the water crew, and he cares about these kids as if they were his own, but he's also a coach who lloves that role, and I'll be disappointed but not surprised if he moves on to a position at a school that appreciates these qualities, and allows him to teach and coach.
Monko June 28, 2012 at 06:58 PM
I don't believe the town should be painted as racist, and the best way to prove that is to make it clear that we're doing everything possible to prove that we don't condone or tolerate this behavior, not to fire someone who claims to be a victim of it, rather than investigating his claims.
Anne Carroll June 28, 2012 at 07:51 PM
Absolutely agree, Monko. And I hope I'm proven wrong and in fact our wonderful town is NOT racist.
CollingswoodMom June 29, 2012 at 08:59 PM
The bottom line is Hammerick is the problem. It is definitely time for his time as AD to end. He uses his position to keep kids in this town OUT of D1 & D2 schools for athletics (unless it's his son). Instead of positively promoting kids to these schools he (who is the go between in most cases) uses his position to give negative references. Most school districts push for their kids (like Joe does). Hammerick is an negative fixture in the school district. Joe found out like many of the kids he pridefully kept from a college education the extent of his evilness.
Colls Parent June 29, 2012 at 11:27 PM
No we are here because the board gave no reason for this man getting fired from his coaching job. The board we elected. The board that should not be elected AGAIN!
Colls teacher June 30, 2012 at 09:19 PM
Collingswoodmom, I hope this is not true. If so, how sad. As for racism in the town, I do not think the majority of the town is racist, but I do think there are some people who live in town who are racist.


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