Volleyball co-captain says silence fuelled hazing rumors

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.

Brett Lewis, co-captain of the volleyball team says the university let him down (Facebook)

Lewis says the entire team was asked not to speak to the media following the death of rookie Andrew Bartlett after a team party. 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,” says 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.

Six weeks ago, Lewis and his teammates organized a rookie party. As team co-captain, Lewis says he was unofficially in charge. 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 have ruled Bartlett’s death an accident. In a statement released Dec. 8, police spokesman Rick Mooney said
alcohol was a factor in an accidental fall. The investigation concluded no criminal wrongdoing but revealed few other details.

St. Thomas University 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. As punishment, the team has been suspended from the league 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 a team party, which started in Harrington Hall and later moved off campus.

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.”

It was difficult for Lewis to stay tight lipped as people speculated whether or not the events at that party led to Andrew’s death. But the university also stayed silent. In a short statement to the press, Cochrane said the university was investigating allegations of hazing.

“We are going to get to the bottom of what allegedly happened,” said Cochrane.

But according to Lewis, nothing sinister happened at the party. Rookies were asked to bring costumes and he admits lots of
alcohol was present. But he says no one was humiliated or berated and no one was forced to participate. Lewis insists 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,” says Lewis. “I think Andrew had a really good time.”

Lewis acknowledges there’s much secrecy around rookie parties, but he says the atmosphere at this party was congratulatory.

“It was all very positive and it was even that way back when I was a rookie and it wasn’t like, ‘Ha ha look at these rookies.’ … It was congratulatory you almost felt good to be a rookie…you were excited to be involved with this type of scenario.”

Rookies could opt out of the activities and Lewis says some of them did.

“There’s a couple times when guys came up to me and said, ‘You know I don’t want to do that,’ and I said ‘well you’re 21 … you decide for yourself.’”

As for drinking, Lewis says he personally kept an eye on his teammates to make sure they weren’t overdoing it.

“There were times during the night that I told certain guys, veterans included, ‘Hey buddy you should slow down a little bit.’”

Lewis says at no point did he think he would need to stop the party because things were out of control.

***

But the media didn’t hear Lewis’ side of the story. Weeks passed with no statement about Bartlett or the team party from STU. In the meantime, the story garnered national attention as the public waited for an official police report.

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.

It seemed like things were getting better until the suspension of the team was announced this week. After all their hard work to get back on the court, Lewis says the news felt like a slap in the face.

“It probably would have been a lot better to have just not played at all.”

But Lewis wasn’t surprised at the severity of the punishment. He feels that by keeping silent the school unintentionally encouraged speculation about hazing, which in turn meant a harsh punishment for the team.

“Because of how things were handled they ran out of options,” says Lewis. “Things were handled poorly from the beginning.”

Lewis says he has found support from a lot of faculty, staff and students at the university.

However, he says 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.”

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 says the entire team was asked not to speak to the media
following the death of rookie Andrew Bartlett after a team party.
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,” says 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.

Six weeks ago, Lewis and his teammates organized a rookie
party. As team co-captain, Lewis says he was unofficially in charge.
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 have ruled Bartlett’s death an accident. In a statement
released Dec. 8, police spokesman Rick Mooney said
alcohol was a factor in an accidental fall. The investigation
concluded no criminal wrongdoing but revealed few other details.

St. Thomas University 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. As punishment, the team has been suspended from the league 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 a team party, which started in Harrington Hall and later
moved off campus.

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.”

It was difficult for Lewis to stay tight lipped as people speculated
whether or not the events at that party led to Andrew’s death. But
the university also stayed silent. In a short statement to the press,
Cochrane said the university was investigating allegations of
hazing.

“We are going to get to the bottom of what allegedly happened,”
said Cochrane.

But according to Lewis, nothing sinister happened at the party.
Rookies were asked to bring costumes and he admits lots of
alcohol was present. But he says no one was humiliated or berated and no
one was forced to participate. Lewis insists 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,” says Lewis. “I think Andrew had a
really good time.”

Lewis acknowledges there’s much secrecy around rookie parties,
but he says the atmosphere at this party was congratulatory.

“It was all very positive and it was even that way back when I
was a rookie and it wasn’t like, ‘Ha ha look at these rookies.’ … It
was congratulatory you almost felt good to be a rookie…you were
excited to be involved with this type of scenario.”

Rookies could opt out of the activities and Lewis says some of
them did.

“There’s a couple times when guys came up to me and said, ‘You
know I don’t want to do that,’ and I said ‘well you’re 21 … you
decide for yourself.’”

As for drinking, Lewis says he personally kept an eye on his
teammates to make sure they weren’t overdoing it.

“There were times during the night that I told certain guys,
veterans included, ‘Hey buddy you should slow down a little bit.’”

Lewis says at no point did he think he would need to stop the party because things were out of control.

***

But the media didn’t hear Lewis’ side of the story. Weeks passed
with no statement about Bartlett or the team party from STU. In
the meantime, the story garnered national attention as the public
waited for an official police report.

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.

It seemed like things were getting better until the suspension of the
team was announced this week. After all their hard work to get back on the court, Lewis says the
news felt like a slap in the face.

“It probably would have been a lot better to have just not played at all.”

But Lewis wasn’t surprised at the severity of the punishment. He
feels that by keeping silent the school unintentionally encouraged speculation
about hazing, which in turn meant a harsh punishment for the
team.

“Because of how things were handled they ran out of options,”
says Lewis. “Things were handled poorly from the beginning.”

Lewis says he has found support from a lot of faculty, staff and
students at the university.

However, he says 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.”

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