Investigator: Racial Bias Played No Role in Dismissal of Former Boys Basketball Coach

Joe McLoughlin (Patch File Photo)
Joe McLoughlin (Patch File Photo)
Collingswood Superintendent of Schools Scott Oswald’s decision not to reappoint boys basketball coach Joseph McLoughlin after the 2011-12 season was not racially motivated and was not influenced by any outside forces, an investigator assigned to the case has ruled.

McLaughlin claims that Oswald was influenced by Athletic Director Ronald Hamrick and former Athletic Director Edward Hill, who he claims had a racially-motivated vendetta against him.

However, Edward Borden Jr., of Earp Cohn P.C. decided that while there was a strained relationship between McLoughlin and Hill and Hamrick, neither Hill or Hamrick influenced Oswald’s decision, nor was the decision racially motivated.

He made the determination in a report dated June 27, 2013, and released to Patch Tuesday night.

The school district initially filed a lawsuit against Patch and The Retrospect to prevent them from obtaining a copy of the report, which is attached to this story. That suit, filed when Matt Skoufalos was the Local Editor for Collingswood Patch, has been resolved.

Instead, Oswald’s decision to dismiss McLoughlin appeared to be based on McLoughlin’s performance as coach, which included:

* the ongoing drama involving McLauglin, Hill and Hamrick;

* an unusually high turnover rate for his coaching staff;

* a failure to properly discipline players;

* using a player in both the junior varsity and varsity games in one day in 2012, in violation of NJSIAA rules, which ultimately resulted in Collingswood forfeiting the game; and

* Collingswood's last place finish in the area of sportsmanship in the Colonial Conference following the 2011-12 season.

In 2011, McLaughlin met with Oswald and told him Hill and Hamrick were out to “get him” in a meeting that lasted over four hours. While Hill and Hamrick were always involved in McLoughlin’s annual evaluations, Oswald decided to perform the evaluation following the 2011-12 season himself.

Following McLoughlin’s dismissal, McLoughlin and other members of the community began claiming he was dismissed for racial reasons. McLoughlin is white, but claims he was treated unfairly because he played “too many black players.”

He filed a lawsuit against the district in August of 2013.

The school board called on Borden, who specializes in white-collar criminal defense and is a former Camden County prosecutor, to investigate the case.

Borden obtained written documents and conducted about 20 hours of interviews with current and former school administrators.

According to Borden, McLoughlin and his attorney continued to delay speaking with him until the investigation was nearly complete. When they did finally speak, McLoughlin refused to allow the interview to be recorded.

According to Borden's investigation:

McLoughlin was the coach from 1998-2012. When he became coach, Hill was the Athletic Director.

Borden determined that a 1999 conversation between McLoughlin and Hill in which McLoughlin claimed Hill told him the basketball team was “too dark,” despite Collingswood being a “white high school” did happen.

Following this conversation, McLoughlin claims Hill, who initially gave him a glowing endorsement, became negative toward him and began to seek his removal.

In 1999, 2000 and 2001, Hill called for McLaughlin to be removed, but his efforts were derailed by the Collingswood Education Association each time.

However, in 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2009, Hill gave McLoughlin the highest possible numerical evaluation possible. Hill filled out the 2009 evaluation for Hamrick, who was then the Athletic Director, replacing Hill, who had become principal.

No record exists for McLoughlin’s evaluations for 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2007 are missing, and the school district has no explanation. All evaluations were obtained from the school district, as McLoughlin refused to turn his copies of the evaluations over to Borden

McLoughlin claims Hill continued to make racist remarks, but there is no evidence of this in McLoughlin’s handwritten notes and he never reported it to the school district’s administration.

McLoughlin told the investigator that he was up for the Retrospect newspaper’s “Coach of the Year” award in 2003, but Hill contacted the editor of the paper and stated that McLoughlin’s selection might “cast a bad light.” McLoughlin had been ejected from two games that season. Ultimately, McLoughlin was not chosen to receive the honor.

Hamrick became Athletic Director in 2009. McLoughlin claims to have had a conversation similar to the one with Hill in 1999 about the racial makeup of the team, but Borden has no indication that this is true.

Mel Sharples March 05, 2014 at 09:04 AM
GFY, fair enough. On those points you are correct. My apologies for that unfair characterization. As for John, I'll close with this - rather than read racism into your post I'll just counter them with facts as they are. If you are a C'Wood resident you should read the school budget. A significant portion of the school budget comes from the state. That's based on unclear criteria, but does factor in # renters, # out of area students, income levels, and other economic factors that impact school costs and funding. Same goes for every neighboring district with the exception of Haddonfield. Most of the state budget is derived from sales tax and income tax. So, with all due respect, even those from out of the area are paying for the schools here. Maybe not to the degree that property tax payers in the borough are, but they are paying.
John March 12, 2014 at 05:42 PM
A true story. Back in the 1967 football season , Collingswood found itself going for another group 4 championship. Before the last game would happen ,one which Colls was picked to easily win, a party would take place at a students house in Oaklyn. Turns out , just about all the starters on that 67' team were at the party. From they way it was told, a bottle of whisky began to get passed around and bad choices on behalf of some of those players were made. The house was trashed, furniture thrown into the pool , even the family cat was killed. Well , needless to say , word got back to the school. That led to every player being called into the coaches office. NOT the principals office . Those players were asked "were you there? "Did you drink"? After that was all said and done , those starting seniors were suspended the rest of the season. This led to the J.V. team having the task of trying to secure a group 4 championship season in which they came up short. My point is that Collingswood always had deep rooted integrity when it came to sports . They always encouraged students to try out for sports with an understanding that playing sports was Not a right but a privilege. That coaches would demand an expectation of good grades , and good behavior . Again , the coaches. . I remember way back in the early 70's guys like Sam Courson coming around to classes and briefing us on spectator edicate during a game. Not to talk trash and such. It just wasn't tolerated and for Collingswood coaches to make a decision to basically throw a group 4 championship away like that proves where they are coming from. They stood on principal then and I applaud them for standing on it now. The point of this story is that it was felt by many that Coach Joe was NOT following that old school Colls tradition of holding his players feet to the fire when it came to certain behavior. What happened back in 67' you could say was "white on white discipline" as dumb as it sounds but it was Collingswood s way of saying "this is who we are" . True Collingswood is much more diverse now and has given a great opportunity to many students of a diverse background but that's no reason to throw long standing traditions to the wayside. I think it's time that people respect Collingswood s traditions for what they are and grow up and realize how fortunate they are to be at this school.


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