When the Harwood varsity boys’ hockey team had to pick a name for their players-only group chat last year, this is what they came up with: “The Children of Grout.” After coach Jacob Grout lead the boys to the Division II state championship, the team’s first championship title in 15 years, the boys returned fired up for the 2021 season with a new group chat name: “The Children of Grout 2.0.”
The team’s devotion to Grout may stem from Grout’s coaching philosophy: be more than just a coach. “If you play for me, I’m gonna be there way beyond your years of playing hockey,” said Grout in an interview with The Valley Reporter on Thursday, March 11. “I’m always gonna be there. If at 11 o’clock at night, 10 years after you graduate, you need to ask me a question, I’m there for you. My whole theory behind coaching is, you have to be more than just a coach.”
Naturally, the boys were distraught when, days before the team’s opening game on February 17, Grout was fired for sending his players a profanity-laden message that contained complaints about parent interference with coaching.
Despite public outcry on social media and a petition signed by more than 1,300 people asking that the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) reinstate Grout, no action has been taken.
“I’ve been sending emails, but I have not been receiving anything in return,” said Grout about his attempts to communicate with the HUUSD Board. “I have not received a direct message from any board member at this time. The only person I heard from was Brigid Nease, with a denial to my appeal.”
Asked about rumors that he plans to sue the HUUSD Board, Grout has not confirmed that he will. “I’m not gonna say yes, I’m not gonna say no. It hasn’t come to that yet,” said Grout about a potential lawsuit. “I want to believe in the fact that this board has the opportunity to turn this decision around. I have faith that the right thing will be done before it comes to that.”
“But at the same time, I’m conflicted, because this feels like a personal attack. But I’m not gonna ride that dog and pony show of “poor me, poor me,” because I’m not completely absolved of any fault here,” Grout continued.
While Grout is remorseful about his word choice in his message to the boys, he doesn’t take back what he said. “I apologize for the delivery of it, but I won’t apologize for the message. My message was pure. There was a meaning behind my message. My choice of words is what got me in trouble here,” said Grout.
Now, two things are keeping Grout up at night. First, he feels that the administration didn’t properly investigate the case before making the decision to fire him. “When I found out that the principals never saw my full text message and made the decision anyway, that hit a nerve in me bad. It felt like my message was altered to make me look bad,” said Grout. “Just to know that that happened, whether it was intentional or not, the fact that there was no investigation into the situation makes me angry.”
Second, Grout is concerned that HUUSD administrators did not consider the best interest of the players in this process. “They’re not listening to the kids, the ones who are affected the most by this. That’s what bothers me more than anything,” said Grout, who mentioned that the three hockey team captains have met with the administration twice to ask for their coach back, to no avail. “As teachers, as coaches, as administrators, our job, first and foremost, is to be there for the kids,” said Grout.
In the meantime, Grout has stayed in touch with the team. His phone blows up with messages from them after every game. “This one’s for you,” they say. After the team’s last win, one player, Jonathan O’Brien, texted Grout: “That game was for you. We still fight for you. We’re gonna win another chizzy (championship) for you.”