New Trier ousts lacrosse coach Tom Herrala following hazing incident, reported leave of absence
Four months after a group of New Trier High School lacrosse players battered at least one of their teammates, the school has dismissed the team’s longtime coach.
In June, school administrators told Tom Herrala, who coached with the Trevians for the past 25 seasons, he would not be returning to the program. In March, Herrala reportedly was placed on administrative leave that lasted the entirety of the 2022 season.
New Trier Athletic Director Augie Fontanetta explained that incumbent athletic coaches are reconsidered after each season, and after the spring season, he said, Herrala, was not asked to return. Calling the situation a “personnel matter,” Fontanetta would not comment further on Herrala or the school’s investigation into a March hazing incident in which at least one New Trier lacrosse player was beaten.
Herrala took over head coaching duties for the varsity Trevians in 2009. In his 12 seasons (no season in 2020) at the helm, Herrala’s teams won more than 200 games and seven state championships.
On March 5 of this year, a group of New Trier boys lacrosse players struck and kicked at least one of their teammates at an off-campus party. A portion of the hazing was recorded and circulated, as first reported by The Record on March 28.
Herrala said he began investigating the incident along with Fontanetta and other school administrators just a few days after the incident and prior to information surfacing about a digital recording of the beating.
Once the video recording began to circulate, both within and outside the community, the internal investigation intensified and so did involvement from Superintendent Dr. Paul Sally and Winnetka campus Principal Denise Dubravec, Herrala said. Additionally, the Winnetka Police Department investigated the incident but no charges were filed, according to The Record’s previous reporting.
“It was horrible and it certainly was not what was described to me,” Herrala said of the actions depicted in the recording. “I was angry — angry that they would do that to one of their teammates.”
Herrala said he has no knowledge of violent hazing in the lacrosse program’s history.
News of the hazing video was picked up by media outlets across Chicagoland, and the school announced in an email to district parents on March 31 that the lacrosse team was banned from out-of-state tournaments (two on the schedule) and placed on probation.
The email from Dubravec, Fontanetta and Sally also states — though without details — that players involved in the hazing faced disciplinary action in accordance with the school’s code of conduct. The statement made no mention of Herrala, and school officials declined to comment further in a followup interview
When the season began, multiple Trevians players were on the sidelines, but Herrala was not. Coaching duties were assumed by assistant coaches Jason Schoenwetter, Adam Dickson and Paul Newman. Herrala told The Record his leave of absence began just before the season. Fontanetta would not comment on the reported administrative leave.
Herrala said the alleged leave of absence came as a surprise to him during a time in which he said he was actively helping with the school’s investigation. He said after he advocated to remove a player from the team for the player’s involvement in the hazing, Herrala was placed on leave. Fontanetta declined to comment.
During the season, Herrala said he met with school administration around spring break to talk about his future with the program; the decision to move on without Herrala, however, was made at the end of June, nearly a month after the season ended.
Herrala said he was disappointed in the investigation process, but declined to provide further details.
“Most importantly, I am proud of the men the players have become,” Herrala wrote in a letter to local lacrosse parents. “I hear from previous players decades later telling me how their time on the NT lacrosse team shaped them as people and prepared them to excel in life.
Herrala will remain the leader of Junior Trevians Lacrosse, a youth lacrosse program serving New Trier Township, including through the Wilmette Park District.
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Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319