Seven Saugus High student athletes suspended for smoking on graduation night
By Mark E. Vogler
Saugus social media exploded with angry tweets this week from School Committee members, parents and student athletes – people irked by the Saugus Public Schools’ decision to keep seven seniors from playing in their final games for partaking in what is considered a silly tradition. Six members of the lacrosse team and another on the baseball team got suspended because they smoked cigars to celebrate getting their diplomas last Friday at the Saugus High School graduation ceremonies.
“We made the tournament last year, and the game was after graduation and seniors smoked cigars and didn’t get in trouble,” graduate Kevin Cucuzza tweeted on Sunday after learning of his suspension. “It wasn’t a big deal then and it shouldn’t be now,” he complained.
“Excuse my language but I call Bull [expletive deleted]!,” cussed School Committee Member Elizabeth Marchese. Marchese went on to say that “every year the traditional cigar smoking goes on in the presence of school administrators … and yes same this year.”
The suspensions “could have been avoided by just one admin telling them to put them out as soon as they were lit if it was that much of an issue,” she wrote. Marchese said the students should have been warned in advance.
But Saugus Public Schools Superintendent David DeRuosi, Jr. defends the disciplinary action taken against the seven senior athletes. “The bottom line is this School District was made aware of the situation and were compelled to take action,” DeRuosi told The Saugus Advocate this week.
“To do anything less is condoning it. I honestly feel this is all about consistency. State law clearly states you can’t have tobacco on school grounds. And it’s our policy. It’s also against the MIAA [The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association] regulations,” the superintendent said.
“If this was going on previously, then right now it becomes a teachable moment and it’s not going to happen anymore. Moving forward, I will spell it out,” he said.
It was a joint decision by Saugus High School Principal Michael Hashem and Athletic Director James Bunnell that the School Department needed to take action after they learned of the photos on Saturday, according to DeRuosi. Hashem briefed the superintendent about the situation, and DeRuosi said he agreed.
“The kids’ photos were posted and they were popping up all over,” DeRuosi said. “You’re in a pretty tough spot when you have the photographic evidence. If our kids go on that field and they were photographed, they were ineligible and we forfeit,” he said.
While there weren’t any specific warnings about the cigar tradition before the graduation ceremonies, DeRuosi said the seniors should have known that any potential deviation from school regulations would be dealt with. “It was pretty clear to the senior class that all rules associated with all school events are in effect,” the superintendent said.
With the town prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21, it would be unacceptable for school officials to turn their backs on the situation, according to the superintendent. “Sometimes you need to do the right thing. It might be unpopular … There’s not going to be any more cigar smoking,” DeRuosi said.
He also noted that the cigar controversy wouldn’t even be an issue, except for the fact that graduating student athletes were playing in a postseason tournament. “MIAA policy is what it is,” he said. The superintendent also noted that Saugus Public Schools has a “zero tolerance” when it comes to alcohol and tobacco.
But Cucuzza remains bitter about the way his high school sports career ended abruptly. “Right after we threw our caps in the air, I took my cigar out of my shirt pocket and lit it up. Almost every boy also did the same. I shook hands with teachers and also took a picture with my lacrosse coach and teammates, all except for one of us,” he wrote.
School Committee Member Lisa Morgante said on social media that she doesn’t think it is fair that the celebrating student athletes got suspended. “Imagine working hard all season as a team to make it into the tournament you’re at your graduation celebrating another milestone in life & THIS keeps you out of a game? It’s sad for all involved!!!” Morgante wrote.