EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 5, 2013

Letter: Coach Rafferty firing defies understanding

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — To the editor:

I came to know him as “Raff,” as did most of those who work with him in his capacity as senior case worker at the Billerica House of Correction.

Upon hearing of John Rafferty’s dismissal as head football coach at North Andover High, I am moved to add my voice to the crescendo of support and outrage echoing around the Merrimack Valley.

I can’t speak to his credentials as a football tactician, nor do I feel the need to. His accomplishments as a player at Syracuse University and his coaching experience prior to the North Andover job appear to be excellent preparation for instructing young men in the X’s and O’s of football. His 12 year-record as the North Andover coach speaks eloquently to this.

Despite the fact many of North Andover’s better athletes are lost to private schools, Raff would certainly have met any reasonable person’s standard of excellence.

What I can speak to is John Rafferty, the man.

Raff reported directly to me as the director of Inmate services at the Middlesex Sheriff’s Department. I was able to see his day-to-day interaction with young inmates and staff. One of my responsibilities was to evaluate the performance of all caseworkers.

Essentially, I asked caseworkers to engage young inmates in examining the life circumstances that may have contributed to the fact that they were now in prison facing a term of incarceration and, most importantly, to not accept those factors — drugs, alcohol, family issues, etc.—as excuses for their decisions. Caseworkers were also called upon to set firm limits on inmates during their confinement and to enforce these limits when called upon. Many caseworkers could provide the empathy needed to engage the inmates in formulating discharge plans or excelled in setting behavioral limits. A relative few embodied both. Raff stood apart from his caseworker colleagues in this regard and excelled in both.

I recall writing a letter of reference for Raff when he applied for the position at North Andover High. I received a call from an administrator involved in hiring. As a preamble to the questions that followed, this individual offered a vague reference to the previous coach and the difficult circumstances that a new coach would encounter. His subsequent questions focused on character, leadership and the ability to be a good role model. I had absolutely no reservations attesting to Raff’s qualifications in this regard. I can’t conceive of a set of circumstances that would keep him from rising above the fray of anything he might be presented with.

On a gut level, I feel those involved in the whole process should go on bended knees and beg Raff to stay as head coach. However, I gather from stories in the Tribune that he is understandably fed up with the way that people who should know better have conducted themselves through the entire process. Typical of the John Rafferty I know, he is conducting himself with dignity and not taking advantage of the overwhelming support he is receiving to take some parting shots at the people and the process that in my mind borders on the absurd. Raff remains a class act even as he is escorted to the exit.

John Rafferty is not “walking through that door anymore,” and it’s the young people of North Andover who are suffering the consequence of a decision made by their elders that defies understanding.

Jim Cain

North Andover