On haircuts and possible hazing
On Jan. 6, Churchill wrestling coach Brandon Shapiro was fired and escorted by a school employee out of his alma mater, where the two-time state champion is in the athletic hall of fame and is considered by many to be a local hero.
After a parental complaint, a school investigation had determined that the buzzcuts he had given to at least two wrestlers on school grounds were a health and safety issue and a fireable offense.
On Friday, however, after a groundswell of public support for the dismissed coach, Churchill Principal Joan Benz announced that Shapiro, 25, would return to the program. Starting Monday, he will serve not as head coach but as a volunteer assistant.
"We appreciate your past support for the team," Benz wrote in an e-mail Friday afternoon to Churchill parents informing them of Shapiro's return and in apparent acknowledgment of their reinstatement efforts. "We are moving forward with typical Bulldog spirit."
Well, maybe not everyone. Parents of two of the three boys who got haircuts in the team room after practice Dec. 20 have serious misgivings about whether a coach has the right to clip students' hair without parental consent, and they question just how voluntary the buzzcuts really were.
The concerned parents say that Shapiro, who considered the haircuts a team-building exercise and a way to keep wrestlers' hair in compliance with the rules of the sport, used poor judgment that may have veered into hazing. They also refute key points of information that he provided in his formal statement to school authorities about the incident.
They also place little stock in the fact that two boys who received haircuts and several other wrestlers have signed statements saying that the incident was all in fun. (The third boy whose hair was cut has said in TV interviews that his clipping was voluntary.)
"If it's okay for him to be there at all, then why not reinstate him [as head coach]," said Mrs. Deaver, the mother of the boy, Wesley Deaver, who she said was wrapped or tied in the jump rope. Mrs. Deaver, who has been involved with the Churchill wrestling program for eight years, asked that her first name not be used. "And if it's not okay for him to be there, then why allow him to be there?"
Shapiro's many supporters, organized by Joe Sutton, who in addition to having two sons on the team employs Shapiro in his real estate business, say that a petition urging his reinstatement garnered 1,000 signatures in two days. They are hailing his return to the program, even with a lesser title, as delayed justice.
In interviews and e-mails, Churchill wrestling parents have referred to Shapiro as "awesome, loving" and "an idol" with "a winning attitude" and "a smart, ethical guy."
"[Now] I can start focusing on things that actually matter," said Shapiro, a first-year head coach who was to earn a stipend of a little more than $4,000. He was considered an "emergency coach" because he works outside the school system. "[Just] coaching the kids and finishing out the season as strong as we can and forgetting about this whole event."
In his statement submitted for the school investigation, Shapiro acknowledged that "in hindsight it was not smart to bring in a razor and cut a kid's hair" and that he "was acting irresponsibly." In an apology circulated to the wrestlers and their families around that same time, Shapiro called the haircuts "a bad decision" and "a mistake I deeply regret."