Thursday, January 16, 2003

Sugarloaf chief slams Cape parents for party

Published in the Current

Two Cape Elizabeth seniors have been suspended from their athletic teams in the wake of New Year’s Eve parties at the Sugarloaf ski area. The night’s events were called “a nightmare” by the local police chief, who criticized Cape Elizabeth parents for their lack of responsibility and concern for their kids.

Colin Malone, 18, a senior and one of two top scorers on the boys basketball team, and a 17-year-old senior on the boys ice hockey team, have been
kicked off their respective squads for violations of school policy and team rules.

A third Cape teen, a 17-year-old male, was the driver of a car involved in an accident near Sugarloaf in the early hours of Jan. 1, in which alcohol was a factor, according to Carrabassett Valley Police Chief Ron Moody. Four Cape teens were passengers in the car. The driver may face unspecified juvenile charges, Moody said.

Jim Ray, Malone’s coach, said Malone was “dismissed from the team” for “training rules violations.” High school Principal Jeff Shedd declined to comment, citing federal laws on student privacy.

Steve Ouellette, the hockey coach, refused to comment on his player’s situation and referred questions to Athletic Administrator Keith Weatherbie. Weatherbie did not return phone calls from the Current.

Malone’s parents declined to comment. The hockey player confirmed that he was off the team for the season, but declined further comment.

Big night for partying
The parties that caused all the trouble took place New Year’s Eve near the Sugarloaf/USA ski area.

Sugarloaf hosts a large New Year’s party each year, including a fireworks display. A Cape teenager who was at Sugarloaf that evening told the Current many of the kids started there, but when the weather turned bad – it was cold with freezing rain – they went back to hotel rooms and condos kids had rented.

“We had a number of Cape Elizabeth students up here,” Moody said.

Between 75 and 100 kids, all between the ages of 14 and 18, he said, “were up here partying and drinking.”

Around 9 p.m., Moody’s department received several noise complaints from occupants of hotel rooms and condos near the parties, which were in a hotel near Sugarloaf’s base and a condominium complex adjoining the ski area.

One Cape teen told the Current the hotel manager wanted to kick some kids out of a room they had rented, but ended up not doing it. When police
responded, they found a big party in progress. “We found a lot of people in the area with liquor and no adult supervision,” Moody said.

Police recovered between 150 and 200 cans and bottles of beer and liquor. Most of the containers were full, Moody said.

As officers rounded up and identified partiers, “parents were attempted to be called,” Moody said. Many parents refused to come up and pick up their children, he said, citing distance and weather. There was freezing rain that night in the Greater Portland area.

“We became the babysitting service for Cape Elizabeth, basically,” Moody said.

Officers focused on breaking up the party, but were able to identify 30 kids, all from Cape Elizabeth. Many of them had nowhere to stay. “They were staying in cars, in stairwells. It was somewhat of a nightmare,” Moody said.

The Cape teen said that many kids did not have their own places to stay, but were expecting to “crash” with friends in their lodgings.

Parents uninformed, irresponsible
When Moody spoke to parents, most of them thought their children did have a place to stay, despite Moody’s insistence that this was untrue.

“I didn’t get a very good response,” he said.

He also was not impressed by the way the party seemed to have been organized. His investigation indicated that 18-year-olds had reserved condos and hotel rooms, and invited as many people as they could up to the mountain. “Everybody was coming up here to party,” Moody said.

He did not find evidence that parents checked out their kids’ plans for the holiday.

“I didn’t think it was very responsible of the parents to let their kids come here without adult supervision,” Moody said.

And despite the bad weather, Moody, himself a parent, expected more concern from Cape parents. “I would hope that their parents would all come up to pick them up,” he said, but his first preference would have been that the parties never happened.

“My hope is that they would have controlled their children,” Moody said. “I don’t think the parents did a very good job” of finding out where their kids were actually staying, or ensuring that there would be supervision.

“They need to research where their children are going.”

Moody said his community, which has only 325 year-round residents, does not usually have this sort of problem. When large groups visit, which is common, “they come with adults or chaperones,” Moody said.

In this case, because parents were not present, the parties were out of control. So was at least one car. A car one Cape teen was driving, with four passengers inside, “went out of the road, hit a snowbank and tore off the front tire,” Moody said.

“We don’t want to end up with a Tukey’s Bridge situation,” Moody said, referring to a Jan. 13, 2002, accident in which three teenagers died as a result of a drunk teen driver.

“I just think (Cape parents) need to be a little bit more parental.”

Publicity a problem
The school department was unhappy about the press the incident received, particularly the naming of Malone. Superintendent Tom Forcella said the publication of Malone’s name in both the Current and the Portland Press Herald was “unprofessional.”

Both newspapers reported statements from coach Ray, who told reporters and his team that Malone, the team’s second-leading scorer, was off the team because he violated the school’s alcohol policy at Sugarlof over New Year’s.

Ray himself may be regretting speaking publicly. “We were really not looking for the publicity,” he told the Current. “(Malone) has been terribly hurt by this. It’s hurt the fans, the team.”

The Cape School Board met in an hour-long executive session Tuesday with Malone’s parents. The Malones declined to comment after the executive session ended.

A Cape parent who was in the room but was asked to leave when the executive session began expressed frustration that the board had the power to exclude the public from its discussions. He was concerned that the athletes had been kicked off their teams, and had expected “a community meeting” with a lot of adults present to discuss the issue. He was the only member of the public to attend the meeting.