Monday night's School Committee meeting had a much larger audience than most School Committee meetings. In fact, it saw a higher turnout than some past Town Meetings.
Players, former players, parents and other members of the North Andover community crowded into the North Andover High School library to speak out against the recent firing of Varsity Football Coach John Rafferty.
Many players wore dress shirts and ties. Many former players came from all over -- one even flew in from Virginia to speak.
The message was loud and clear: Hire Rafferty back.
"Everyone feels that the needs of a few outweighed the needs of the many," Varsity Football co-Captain Tom Stabile said. "Going to many people with administration and people who had a say in this, I kept hearing 'it's in the best interest of the students, the best interest of the players.' If it was in the best interest of the players, you wouldn't see any of us here tonight, we wouldn't be complaining, because we wouldn't be compliajong because we would want to see Coach Raff go. It's in the best interest of us for him to still be here."
One theme that carried through each speaker was Rafferty's passion for football and the values players said he instilled in them -- things like perseverance, accountability and respect -- many saying Rafferty made grown men out of them.
A few people mentioned the condition of the team before Rafferty took over in 2001 -- seasons full of personal fouls culminating in a brawl with Masco players at a Thanksgiving game in 2000 -- and how Rafferty turned that around and held his players to high standards.
“Playing for Coach Raff meant something,” former player Patrick Turner said, speaking of Rafferty as a disciplinarian and father figure to his players. “What kind of message do we send to these kids if we allow them to skate by with little or no consequence? He’s established a great track record of turning boys into men."
People vented frustration over school officials' handling of the firing as well.
“I’m embarrassed and ashamed of the way this decision was made," Turner continued. "At a time when great role models are few and hard to find, it’s shame that this town is missing out on such a great man because of a few misguided individuals.”
Superintendent Kevin Hutchinson spoke briefly but said school officials would not discuss the firing publicly.
Athletics Director Jon Longley and North Andover High School Principal Carla Scuzzarella attended the meeting but did not speak.
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that Principal Carla Scuzzarella did not attend the meeting. She actually was there, but she arrived late because she was at the National Honor Society induction ceremony in the auditorium.