In hindsight it was not smart to bring in a razor and cut a kid’s hair.”
Excerpt from a statement by Brandon Shapiro, the ex-head wrestling coach at Churchill High who has become the subject of controversy.
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. StartingMonday, 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 thatmay 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],” saidMrs. 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.”
Shiun Huang, whose family filed the complaint against Shapiro and has requested that her son not be named by The Post, said there are several inaccuracies in what Shapiro has stated in documents and in TV interviews. Most notably, Shapiro insists that he did not cut the hair of Huang’s son. Huang says that Shapiro cut about two-thirds of her son’s hair and then handed the clippers to a wrestler to finish.
Huang’s family filed the complaint Jan. 3, hours after their son was dismissed from the team for having too many unexcused absences from practice, according to Shapiro. The haircuts happened two weeks earlier. Shapiro believes that if the boy had not been cut from the team that his family would not have filed the complaint.
Huang disputes that, saying the family did not lodge a formal complaint closer to the Dec. 20 incident because they wanted to think through their decision and because their son had been sick.
“No one can do anything to you without your consent,” Huang said. “And since you’re a minor, even if you consent to it, it really doesn’t count. The school is so careful about getting permission slips signed for everything. Givingmy son a haircut, altering his appearance, is a pretty big deal without the consent of a parent.”
Wesley Deaver, like many other wrestlers who were there that day, has signed a paper stating that “ the haircuts were given in the spirit of fun, bonding and teammate play and certainly not forced.”
In Shapiro’s formal report, he said that Deaver had a jump rope wrapped over his shoulders but that once he sat down either the coach or Deaver threw the rope aside because it was in the way of the haircut. Shapiro’s report also notes that: “I brought inmy clipper one day and toldWesley after practice that we would cut his hair. He went into the bathroom beforehand. The kids during this time were getting pretty excited and chanting Wesley’s name.”
Given that environment, Mrs. Deaver thinks that some of the wrestlers were inherently pressured to sign a statement absolving Shapiro, who sometimes plays paintball with his wrestlers on weekends.
“[My son] may have been willing,” she said, “ but to shave a kid’s head while he’s tied with a jump rope is not really something that should happen in school by a school employee.”