Captain no longer silent about teammate’s death
FREDERICTON (CUP) — Brett Lewis has nothing to hide. The co-captain of the volleyball team’s one regret, besides losing his teammate, is that he followed the advice of university administrators who asked him to keep quiet.
Lewis said the entire team was asked not to speak to the media following the death of rookie Andrew Bartlett after a team party last October. He trusted the university to represent him and his teammates, but now he says he feels let down.
“The people who suggested we keep quiet and said that they would handle it didn’t do so,” said Lewis, who feels the university should have made a statement on behalf of the volleyball team early on.
At the time, the administration said there would be no comment from the athletic department, but it did not tell student athletes they couldn’t talk.
As team co-captain, Lewis said he was unofficially in charge of the rookie party last fall. After the party, Bartlett was driven home by a teammate. The next morning he was found dead by police in a stairwell in his apartment building. Police ruled Bartlett’s death an accident.
In a statement released Dec. 8, police spokesman Rick Mooney stated alcohol was a factor in an accidental fall. The investigation concluded no criminal wrongdoing, but revealed few other details.
St. Thomas University (STU) also concluded their investigation that day and president Dennis Cochrane said the university found evidence of hazing on the volleyball team. He told media that Lewis and his teammates broke school policy by treating rookies and veterans differently. The team has been suspended for the rest of the season.
It didn’t take long for rumours of hazing to surface after Bartlett’s death. An article published on the New Brunswick Beacon alleged Bartlett and other volleyball rookies participated in initiation rituals at the party.
Amidst speculation and media attention, Lewis says the team was advised not to speak to the media, a decision he now regrets.
“A matter of days after the incident there should have been some form of address whether it was from the university, from the coaching staff or from myself. I think something should have been done to better address the issue because the silence added fuel to the rumours and allowed skeptics to assume the worst.”
According to Lewis, nothing sinister happened at the party. Rookies were asked to bring costumes and he admits a lot of alcohol was present. But he says no one was humiliated or berated and no one was forced to participate. Lewis insisted everyone had a good time, even Bartlett.
“I remember, I have a vivid detail of the night this year and of Andrew with his arm around me, making fun of me and laughing and carrying on for a while,” he said. “I think Andrew had a really good time.”
Lewis acknowledged that there’s much secrecy around rookie parties, but he said the atmosphere at this party was congratulatory. Rookies could opt out of the activities if they wanted,and Lewis said some of them did.
Lewis said he personally kept an eye on his teammates drinking and at no point did he think he would need to stop the party because things were out of control.
As Bartlett’s case got more attention, so did the team.
“A lot of the guys had a real hard time with it, just being scapegoated and borderline shunned,” said Lewis, who describes receiving some “longer than usual stares” during that time.
He tried to focus on volleyball. The team played an exhibition tournament just six days after the passing of their teammate and Lewis admits it was hard to muster the enthusiasm and energy to get back on the court.
“It was really frustrating because we had the talent or ability to be a good team, but it couldn’t produce on the court just because there was so much going on. We kept going to practices, kept playing our games.”
Lewis found encouragement in Bartlett’s parents, who told the team to keep playing. And it seemed like things were getting better until the suspension of the team was announced in mid-December. After all their hard work to get back on the court, Lewis said the news felt like a slap in the face.
“It probably would have been a lot better to have just not played at all.”
He wasn’t surprised by the severity of the punishment. Following Bartlett’s death, speculation about hazing grew across the country. He feels that because hazing was widely thought of to be the cause, the school was almost forced to hand out the harsh consequence.
“Because of how things were handled they ran out of options,” said Lewis. “Things were handled poorly from the beginning.”
However, he said the people he trusted to tell his side of the story kept quiet and as a result he’s not only lost a teammate but an entire team.
“Everyone makes mistakes, us included, it just seems like we’re also paying for their mistakes, too.”