Campagna’s kids are staying clean

The varsity baseball team’s annual trip to Cooperstown, N.Y. in May has been a long-standing tradition enjoyed by players, coaches and parents. Despite a chemical health violation that occurred on the 2010 trip, the team has learned from the experience and is ready to have a fun and alcohol-free weekend at the birthplace of baseball.

The main purpose of the outing is to play a regular season game against Needham, a matchup that has been held for over a decade at historic Doubleday Field. Players also visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame, hold a formal dinner in honor of the seniors and spend quality hangout time together. The last of these activities, usually reserved for push-up contests and Wiffle ball games, turned into a coach’s nightmare after the 2010 Brookline-Needham game. A group of players gathered in one of the team’s hotel rooms and consumed alcohol that was secretly brought to New York.

The consequences of the incident were severe. Six players were suspended for 25 percent of the season, and since the trip occurred in mid-May, they were essentially banned from playing baseball for the rest of the year. In addition to complying with the required MIAA punishment, head coach Joe Campagna took it a step further and permanently removed the player who transported the alcohol to Cooperstown from the team.

“It was an unfortunate incident. I guess I got a little axed there by trusting the guys more than I should have,” Campagna said. “I was disappointed. It personally hurt, but that’s life.”

Campagna said that the varsity squad took a major blow from the suspensions, as the team initially did not have enough players to fill a roster. This was later solved by calling up junior varsity players, but Campagna stressed that the ramifications from the night of drinking impacted much more than the 2010 season.

“At the end of the day, they felt bad about it and really knew that they had hurt me and the program, which is what it’s all about,” he said. “The program is bigger than any of us. The program was here before I got here and was here before the players got here. That’s the school name; it means a lot.”

What had the potential to become a scarring episode for one of the high school’s more prominent teams has turned into a positive learning experience. When preparing for last year’s trip, Campagna said that he and his assistant coaches throughout the season made the expectations for the team’s Cooperstown behavior clear to both players and their parents. The athletes’ bags were inspected multiple times before and during the weekend of the trip, and rounds were conducted in their rooms to make sure no alcohol was hidden somewhere like under a mattress.

“It became a point of emphasis, more so than it already was,” said Athletic Director Pete Rittenburg. “The culture of the school is freedom and responsibility. When you use that freedom irresponsibly, the level of trust unfortunately drops and has to be rebuilt. The supervision was on high alert.”

Even though the team lost against Needham, the 2011 trip was a success in terms of the players abiding by the rules and the coaches strictly enforcing them. Senior Mariano Suriel said that the players shared a similar mindset going into the weekend.

“First, the attitude was go in and get a win because we went there to play a game. Win, have fun, but it wasn’t going to be fun if you messed up for other people. It wasn’t worth it,” he said. “We all had to stick together. We wanted to win, so every player had to be on the same page.”

Senior Eric Dumas attributed the team’s outlook on the Cooperstown outing to something much more significant than wanting to win together.

“I guess we knew what we had to lose. If anything happened, that trip was never happening again,” he said. “We got lucky that we were allowed to go back after what happened.”

Rittenburg said he trusts that this year’s team will replicate the positive results of last year’s trip.

“We believe in redemption,” he said. “We know around here that people make mistakes, and we give the appropriate consequences, but there’s an avenue for redemption.”

Colby Bermel can be contacted at [email protected]