‘People are afraid of us’: NSHS football players call hazing allegations false, call for lift of suspension

North Smithfield High School football player Zackary Kerrigan speaks before school administrators.

NORTH SMITHFIELD – In testimony that was at times angry and at others emotional, a group of players from the North Smithfield High School football team spoke to members of the School Committee this week, saying the hazing allegations that led to suspension of the program last month are false, and that they deserve an apology.

North Smithfield Police Chief Tim Lafferty, meanwhile, has issued a statement calling the investigation of the allegations, “very active,” and stating that the lack of information shared with the players and the community thus far, “is to protect the integrity of the case and paramountly protect any potential victims and cooperating witnesses from being publicly identified and/or fearful to come forward.”

For the players, who saw the start of their season come to a sudden halt nearly a month ago and their supporters, it seems the statement wasn’t nearly enough.

“We were blasted in front of the entire school and the entire community,” said player Zackary Kerrigan. “People are literally afraid of is. People have blocked us on social media… stopped talking to us.”

On Friday, June 24, Supt. Michael St. Jean sent a letter to parents on the decision to immediately halt all practices, workouts and games, also prohibiting the players from participating in other school sports, following what he called a “serious,” allegation of hazing. NRI NOW broke the story after a recipient shared the communication, in a controversy that has since been published by news media from across the state and beyond.

“The sad reality for us is, if the season is cancelled, we will have to go play elsewhere,” said Kerrigan, adding of his teammates, “I love them all like a brother. I would never allow such things to happen to my brother as what’s been said in the allegations. We deserve an apology.” 

Kerrigan was one of many players to speak passionately at the meeting Tuesday night in defense of his teammates, coaches and the program itself.

“When I first heard of these allegations, I was very upset. I was very angry,” said player Charles Rapoza. “I’ve never seen or heard of any of these things happening – until that day.”

Since the news broke, Rapoza said he and his teammates have received threats and harassment on social media, as well as angry comments from other students. He and other players were critical of St. Jean over the decision to release a letter on the allegations, and of the lack of information since.

“I agree that the investigation should have gone on,” Rapoza said, adding, however, “to just get attacked from all directions, it’s not ok. I’ve gotten hundreds of different people calling us rapists, sexists.”

Players were also critical of the decision to suspend the program before investigating the claims.

“Football is the only thing that motivated me to keep coming to school,” said Rapoza, noting that the ability for the team to play their best has been stolen by the decision to suspend practice. “We can’t get there without our pre-season. It’s not like any other sport, where you can just go out there, and play and have fun. The most important part of our season is now gone, but we will overcome that.”  

Starting quarterback and four year varsity player Cole Vowels said that during his time at the school, “football has been my entire life.”

“With no evidence of misbehavior, why are we being punished?” Vowels asked. “Isn’t it innocent until proven guilty? There was no such activity going on.”

Vowels also said that rumors about the incident have led to judgement and harassment for all of the players.

“My fellow teammates and I are afraid of wearing our Northmen clothes out in public,” he said. “You could have kept this behind closed doors to find out yourself the allegations are false. This has gone on for much longer than it should have.” 

Kristen Mckeating, a parent of one player, said she wrote a speech planning to defend the team, but the players had hit all of her points.

“I just felt someone should speak out for them, but they did it themselves,” Mckeating said. “I’m just so proud of all of them.”

Mckeating portrayed the suspension email as an event that “altered the rest of these boys’ lives.”

“The boys were vilified and treated as guilty,” she said. “The horrible rumors and stories going around are disgusting. They don’t deserve any of that.”

“You may say that this is just athletics, but it is so much more than that,” she said. “What good could come out of punishing everyone without hearing the facts?”

“We questioned our kids over and over, and their response has never changed: nothing happened,” added Mckeating. “Now, here we are a month later, and still we have heard nothing.”

Kerrigan said that 44 kids signed up for this year’s football program, a co-op with Mount Saint Charles Academy, and many are hoping that the sport could lead to college scholarships. If allowed to resume, the team’s regular season, led by second year coach Jeff Paiva, is set to begin August 15.

Kerrigan choked up as he read the committee the names of his teammates.

“We represent the Northmen with pride, on and off the field,” Kerrigan said. “Our conduct will always represent the program in the most positive manner possible.”

School Committee Chairman James Lombardi said he’s hopeful the school – and the sports program – will be able to get back to normal soon.

“I am a big supporter of the team,” Lombardi said. “The allegations, obviously, must be investigated.”

He defended St. Jean’s actions, noting of the superintendent, “He is following the solicitor’s advice.”

 For his part, St Jean said to the dozens of player and parents in attendance Tuesday, July 19, “Please understand, when we hear something, we immediately have to act. It’s a process that we all need to follow.” 

Committee member Peg Votta also addressed the students, stating, “I know how difficult this is for all of you. I hope to hear quickly back from the police department.”

Votta added that if the allegations are found to be false, “All apologies will be there.”

“I stand with you,” she said.  

Editor’s note: An original version of the above article identified the parent who spoke as Kristen McCready. We apologize for the error.

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    Sorry is just a word

    The problem here is the Superintendent had a email with 3rd party information. He jumped the gun and called the national guard . Not only that he then sent a email not only to the football team, but every parent in the district like it was a promotion.
    2nd Problem these kids were blasted in front of the school, the community, and not allowed to play summer sports that don’t even have anything to do with the school. Summer passing league is not a school sport.
    3. This is a 3 rd party report. Several parents went on record saying the police said it’s a 3rd party complaint and their form of questions went back years. We don’t even know a crime was committed and these kids were already convicted in the public eye. They are called names, threats have been made, possibly list any chances on going to college. And not everyone goes D1
    Facts: UMass Dartmouth has 37 RI players on the roster right now, URI has at least 20 Rhode Island football recently saw a providence kid go 1st round to the NFL Shea Raiders has a player on the Steelers. Mosus Mues has a offer from ARMY. And NorthSmithfield has a few players in college also.

    4.What these kids learned that you are Guilty till presumed innocent in this country.
    5. Why Mr Super was you so fast to clear MSC KIDS before anyone spoke with police. The timeline is over the past year so how did he pin-point that?

    Listen to the podcast

    • I listed to your podcast and you have offered zero evidence that nothing happened. All you have is students proclaiming innocents. You are also looking at the situation from the football team prospective as you are pro high school sports instead of pro education which failing in RI. If you looked at the issue from the Superintendents view point you might have a different opinion. Allegations where made so the Superintendent did what he needed to do which is to report the allegations to the authorities so he does not end up like other Superintendents that keep the information secret. Just look at what happened to the North Kingston Superintendent. Please remember OJ Simpson was acquitted but had to endure a lengthy trial and process whether or he was guilty or not. These are some serious allegations that can not be brushed under the rug as they where in the past. Also just a few years ago a student had to change schools in North Smithfield due to abuse and bullying with no reprimand to the students involved. Also back in the 80s a student in RI was bullied by student athletes and ended up committing suicide. Rhode Island has lost its focus of a high school education. It is not playing a sport that should be the highlight of high school but it should be the education and the lessons learned. Youth sports are out of control. I continually read of parents abusing coaches, officials, and players. Just my unbiased opinion of a growing issue in youth sports.

  2. I don’t know or have the knowledge to ascertaub who to believe or not to believe. But I think the one thing that stands out to me is that the students, who are minors, btw, are not cooperating, is a red flag. It sounds like they were lawyered up to me. If and this were nothing, there would not have to worry about cooperating, let alone acting on the basis of advice from counsel. While it is their right, it says something about the situation.

    “Football is my whole life.” Another kid said it’s the only reason he goes to school? My advice to these kids is to get a life. For every student who may have the talent to get a scholarship to a Div 1 college program, there are over a 100 who don’t. You really want to look back on your life and say that the highlight of your life was when you played football in high school when you were 16, 17 and 18?

  3. While you “personally know RI HS graduates of other schools”…I personally know those 4 men. They all are playing college football while getting a good education in the area they want to study- on athletic scholarship… Your point “fact finder”??

  4. These allegations have the police, DCYF and the attorney general involved. It seems a bit much if nothing happened. I would also think it would have been handled quickly if the allegations where false. Also why would anyone make this up. I also find it disturbing that one student stated the only reason I come to school is because of football. How about getting an education. The other comment I like is the sport could lead to a college scholarship. The chance of a North Smithfield football player getting a college scholarship is one in a million. Also student athletes need to be educational eligible. I think the superintendent acted appropriately in this case and should not be questioned about his actions.

    • We had a North Smithfield football player go to play college football on scholarship the past 4 years…?

      • Rob, people who are making these statements obviously do not know the youth in the community. Football players that have graduated from NS High School over the past few years moved on to play college ball; they received scholarship money. I personally know these boys. Once again, someone making assumptions without knowing the people or any facts.

        • Exactly… So crazy. Jason Meriwether is playing at Langston. Aldrec Viera Donez playing at Bryant. Jordan Allard playing at Bridgewater. Nathan Tessier playing at Salve Regina. And there is multiple boys on this team who can continue this streak. David seems so worried about these players education, but this sport is leading to a greater education for these boys. People are so quick to bash this football program, but its done great things the past few years. They have a winning record over the past few years. They have won a state championship! They are sending kids to college on scholarship!! This program has done amazing things and I hope they will be allowed to continue doing so.

          • Rob, I only looked up 3 of the people you mentioned and this is what I found Aldrich Dones is on the Bryan roster but did not play in any games last year. Jordan Allard is not listed on the bridgewater roster. Nathan Tessier is a Mount Saint Charles graduate. Students should select a school based on what area of education they want to study and determine the best school to achieve the goal which is to graduate and obtain a good job. I personally know RI HS graduates of other schools that went on to division I colleges and had good sports careers but did not take the education seriously and regret not getting a meaningful degree because it has effected their careers and life. Education needs to be the first and foremost goal of any high school.

  5. Give me a break, the team is now the victim? If the allegations are true than these kids and parents should all be ashamed of themselves, if it’s not then I agree they are all owed an apology. The school superintendent did the right thing considering what was alleged. Let the investigation run its course, share the results, and then reinstate the team or if needed end the program.

    • How can you say the superintendent followed protocol? What is that protocol? Sending an email out to an entire community without any actual evidence to support such allegation. And what exactly was the alleged allegation? As Mr.St Jean quickly cleared the mount kids he turned his back on his own.

      • Allegations need investigation and every adult that works with children is a “mandated reporter,” as required by law. As the allegation is being investigated by the AG’s Office, law enforcement and DCYF, we should assume that it is very serious. Mr. St. Jean in his role has done exactly what we, the taxpayer, pay him to do, protecting every child in the system. We should be thanking him for not sweeping this under the rug, and by law, he cannot. And while we cannot be absolutely sure, as the investigation has not concluded, it would appear MSC students were not in involved. Football is secondary to education and moral development. If any member of the football team took part in hazing of another young man or men, that person should not be allowed to play. And if others knew of the situation and did not report, they also, should not be allowed to play. I just hope that every young person that is questioned, tells the truth. Actions do have consequences and lessons learned are part of human development.

        • Agreed 100%. Now, what if these allegations come out as fake. What should happen to these kids? What should happen to St. Jean? What happens to this team? Thats what I want to know, because it really seems that way right now.

          • I think that if the allegations were false, the investigation would have concluded that by now. If the allegations are false, there are also legal repercussions that could follow including filing a false report. But, I do not think that we should allow the team a pass at this point. Let’s see what the final report concludes. As far as Mr. St Jean, he has done what was required of him by law, so nothing should happen to him either way. As far as the team, time will tell.

            • Mary, I think the team is speaking out because we have information the public doesn’t. They are also being harassed and threatened. “I do not think we should allow the team a pass at this point.” Really? Because these KIDS 14-17 are ALL guilty, right? Because you have questioned them? Have have you spoken to the detectives? I know you haven’t. How about we all let the police do their job. How about we assume the best, instead of the worst? Innocent until proven guilty. How about we stop spreading rumors and wait for the facts? That would be refreshing to see…

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