Peterborough - A Peterborough hockey coach who was suspended for the season after pulling his house league team from a game to protest a racial slur hurled at one of his players has been reinstated.
The Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) reversed its decision on Monday, immediately reinstating Greg Walsh, who was told Thursday that he was suspended until April 10.
The OMHA wouldn’t say why it reversed its decision, made at a Dec. 11 committee meeting at league offices in Richmond Hill, Ont.
Walsh’s team forfeited a game Nov. 15 after officials failed to penalize the player who uttered the racial slur and the opposing coach failed to pull the player from the game.
Walsh expressed surprise Monday over the OMHA’s reversal.
“It’s very humbling in the end the support that we received, really from all across the country,” he said. “I applaud the OMHA for looking at it. We had planned an appeal anyways, but it’s very nice to see that they saw merit in the case.
“It was nice to see that the public really had a voice and it was heard.”
Walsh hopes the racial slur was an isolated incident in Peterborough hockey.
“It’s still a problem in society. It’s not just hockey,” he said. “This is just another life lesson that we learned as a team.”
The 30-member board met Sunday afternoon to discuss the suspension, OMHA executive director Richard Ropchan said Monday.
“They decided to have a closed-door meeting and to review the decision,” he said. “Based on its review, the board decided to terminate the suspension immediately and basically we move on.
“I’m very pleased with the board’s decision and we move on.”
Ropchan said he’s the spokesman for the OMHA and that was the information the board gave him to make public.
Walsh was temporarily suspended on Nov. 15, pending the outcome of a hearing, for pulling his team from a game that was held at the Kinsmen arena in Peterborough.
A player uttered a racial slur at Andrew McCullum as the two players were in the penalty box following a confrontation on the ice near the end of the second period.
A referee didn’t hear the racial slur, but Walsh brought it to the attention of the officials and the opposing team’s coach.
The player was back on the ice to start the third period and that’s when Walsh’s team forfeited the game in protest.
The coach of the opposing team is John Welsh, president of the Peterborough Minor Hockey Association (PMHA). Welsh hasn’t responded to numerous requests for interviews over the last two weeks.
The player who uttered the racial slur, his coach and an assistant coach were given three-game suspensions by the PMHA on Nov. 17.
The PMHA supported the immediate reinstatement of Walsh, said Jeff Ayotte, a lawyer representing the PMHA.
“It was the right thing to do. Given the nature of the one boy’s comments, the PMHA does not condone in any way racism or any type of conduct like that,” he said.
As a result, the PMHA is reviewing its policies and procedures.
The PMHA plans to roll out its new policies next month, Ayotte said.
“Education is the key and greater penalties, greater sanctions if it does occur,” he said. “It’s about more than hockey. It’s for children. And we’re trying to provide a safe environment where they can continue to play and learn.”
Walsh and his NAPA Auto team have offered their support for the policies and procedures review.
Right now, a racial slur is considered a minor penalty until the second incident, Walsh said.
“There’s no more minor penalty for that,” he said. “I would like to see that that is called as a major penalty by the PMHA, then the person that had made that slur would have gone through the same process that I went through."
Walsh is looking forward to getting back behind the bench.
“It’s very gratifying because we are a team. I get to get back with the kids that I have a great deal of respect for. I get to coach my son, which means a lot to me too,” he said.