By Phil Anastasia
Former Collingswood High School basketball coach Joe McLoughlin has filed a lawsuit against the Collingswood Board of Education and three school administrators, claiming he lost his job because he defended black players against "racist practices and acts."
McLoughlin, who was Collingswood's coach from 1998-2012 and is the school's all-time leader in boys' basketball victories, charged that Collingswood principal Edward Hill and athletic director Ronald Hamrick made derogatory comments about black players on the Collingswood team.
Hill and Hamrick, along with Collingswood superintendent Dr. Scott Oswald and the Collingswood Board of Education, are named as defendants in the civil lawsuit, which was filed August 1 in Camden County superior court.
Joseph Betley, attorney for the Collingswood board of education, on Monday said the lawsuit was "without merit" and said the school district "looks forward to these allegations being looked at and decided on their merits."
Oswald declined to comment. Hill and Hamrick were on vacation on Monday, according to administrative assistants in their respective offices, and unavailable for comment.
McLoughlin was not re-hired as Collingswood coach after the 2011-12 season. He won 235 games in 14 seasons and led the program to South Jersey Group 2 titles in 2008 and 2010.
His attorney at the time, Dennis Young, said in June 2012 that McLoughlin was not rehired "because he wouldn't play more white players."
McLoughlin's current attorney, Charles Nugent, confirmed the lawsuit but declined further comment.
McLoughlin, who is a special-education teacher in the Collingswood school system, seeks "punitive" and "compensatory" damages.
The lawsuit claims that McLoughlin has suffered "damages including, but not limited to emotional distress with physical manifestation of that distress, high blood pressure, anxiety disorders, was forced to undergo diagnostic tests for heart conditions, embarrassment, lost wages, and humiliation. Plaintiff further incurred medical expenses, suffered loss of income and other benefits."
In the lawsuit, McLoughlin contends that Hill, then Collingswood's athletic director, told him in 1999 that McLoughlin "catered" to black athletes, that white players are reluctant to try out for the team and that Collingswood is a "white town."
McLoughlin also claims that during the 2006-07 season that Hill twice referred to a Collingswood player by the N-word.
McLoughlin also claims that Hamrick, the current athletic director, said a black Collingswood player who had transferred from Camden for the 2010-11 season was not a "good fit" and indicated that he didn't like "his kind."
The lawsuit also claims that Hamrick referred to a black Collingswood player in September of 2010 by a vulgar and derogatory name.
"As a direct result of his objection to racist practices and acts, McLoughlin was discriminated against," the lawsuit contends.
Further, the lawsuit contends, "The retaliation of the plaintiff would not have occurred but for the fact that the plaintiff spoke against the discrimination against the African American students."
Betley said that McLoughlin was not dismissed as Collingswood's coach in retaliation for McLoughlin's defense of black players.
"The decision (by Oswald) not to recommend him (to be re-hired) had nothing to do with that," Betley said. "I don't know if Hill said things. I don't know if Hamrick said things. There's no proof and they've been denied.
"But I do know that whatever was said 14 years ago had nothing to do with the decision not to rehire Joe McLoughlin as the basketball coach."
Betley said Collingswood would be defended in the matter by attorney Pat Madden of the Haddonfield law firm of Madden and Madden.
In a Jan. 20, 2012 e-mail exchange with McLoughlin that The Inquirer has obtained, Oswald said the coach needed to "check this Hamrick/Hill paranoia at the door."
Oswald also made reference to ongoing concerns that McLoughlin had expressed about Hill and Hamrick.
"As I told you a dozen times last year, neither Ed nor Ron has ever not supported you in discussions with me," Oswald wrote.
Oswald also wrote that he was considering asking McLoughlin to step away from coaching for a year.
"At this point, I, your No. 1 supporter, am considering asking you to take a year off next year . . . I just can't keep dealing with this 'everybody is out to get me' mentality."
When McLoughlin was not re-hired in the spring of 2012, the Collingswood board of education hired former Camden County prosecutor Edward Borden to investigate allegations that the coach was pressured by administrators to play more white athletes.
Borden said Monday that his investigation was "done" and had been presented to Collingswood officials.
Borden declined to comment on his findings, citing "personnel matters" that had not be made public by the board of education.
Betley also declined to comment on Borden's investigation.
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