Eugene “Gino” Vallante’s behaviors at Keene State College were part of a larger pattern, according to former players’ detailed accounts of his time as head coach at New England College.
After nine years at KSC, school officials fired Vallante on March 5 amid allegations that he engaged in inappropriate actions toward students. KSC’s internal investigation, as well as an independent review of that investigation by the McLane Law Firm, are ongoing with no set completion date, according to KSC Media Relations Manager Kelly Ricaurte.
Vallante graduated from KSC in 1997 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Science, according to his resume obtained from The Equinox Right to Know request. He was Associate Head Coach of the KSC Men’s Basketball team from 1997 to 2000, also according to his resume.
Vallante was then appointed head coach of the New England College Men’s Basketball team from 2000 to 2002, according to NEC Vice President of Advancement and Communications Morgan Smith.
Four former NEC players, now in their early 30s, spoke with The Equinox and reported their time at NEC was marked by what qualifies as sexual harassment under the current NEC student handbook. According to the handbook, sexual harassment includes an unwelcome sexual advance when “conduct or communication has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work, academic performance or participation in co-curricular activities.”
The Equinox is awaiting information from NEC regarding whether the policy has changed since 2002.
Late-Night Phone Calls
Just like KSC students, all four former players reported receiving frequent and unwanted phone calls from Vallante.
“I remember we’re all sitting in our friends’ room and the room phone rings. They don’t want to answer it because they know it was the coach, so we’d ignore the calls most of the time because they knew it would be Gino,” said Nick Lowery, an NEC basketball player from 2001 to 2003, “But there’d always be more calls.”
All four former players reported receiving calls from Vallante late at night to discuss various explicit subjects such as masturbation, sexual positions and penis size.
“The phone call would always come in after nine o’clock at night, sometimes later. He would ask if you were seeing anybody, and then it would obviously get into masturbation and pornography and other things like that,” said a former NEC basketball player whose name is being withheld at his request.
The NEC players’ stories mirrored experiences recounted by KSC students in the April 2, 2014, edition of The Equinox. Vallante’s reported behavior at KSC would meet the criteria of stalking in the KSC student handbook, which is defined as “Repeated unwanted attention that would create fear in a reasonable person where the intent is to force him/herself into the life/consciousness of the victim through harassing, threatening or frightening behavior(s).”
Former KSC student Stephen Hopkins, who transferred to NEC at Vallante’s urging in January of 2002, said the alleged sexually explicit conversations did not start until Vallante gained his trust. “When I first met him I thought he was really attentive and kind,” Hopkins said.
However, Hopkins said things changed quickly after Vallante completed his transfer papers.
“I had about an hour-long conversation with him and he started asking me how much I masturbate and things like that. So leading up to my first day at NEC, I’m praying that was an anomaly,” Hopkins said about a conversation he had with Vallante over winter break in 2002.
Hopkins said once he arrived at NEC, the phone calls became the norm.
“He used everything he knew about me, in hindsight he profiled me,” Hopkins alleged. “Once I got to school it became an everyday thing or every other day.”
The unnamed former NEC player said Vallante’s behavior similarly escalated once he was financially committed to NEC.
He said he didn’t know how to turn back from NEC once Vallante had helped him make his transfer official. The former player said, “I didn’t even want to go [to NEC] but the money had been paid, everything was lined up — and how do you tell your parents now, all of a sudden, you don’t want to go when they’re already paying — how do you tell them, and you don’t want to tell them why?”
According to three of the former NEC players, Vallante’s behavior was not limited to phone calls. “He’d call me into his office after practices and we’d have to sit in this chair with no legs,” Hopkins continued, “He’d roll over to me in his chair and put his hand on my shoulder and thigh.”
Another member of the team, Jeremiah Anderson, said every player on the team had a weekly one-on-one meeting with Vallante.
“We’d go to his office and go over stuff. But towards the tail end of conversations it would turn into, ‘Are you still with that girl? How is she doing?’ and turn into sexual questions,” Anderson said.
The unnamed NEC player said he believes it was April of 2002 when Vallante called a freshman teammate and asked him to get a ruler and “measure himself.”
“This caused him [the student] to basically freak out. He was losing it, he called us and was like, ‘We have to do something. I can’t take this anymore.’ So we did,” the former NEC player said.
According to all four former players, the team held a meeting with Vallante, where it was decided he had to leave NEC.
“He [Vallante] started basically crying, and I told him — he was begging for a second chance — and I specifically told him that this is his second chance, that we were going to him and not the administration,” the former player said.
But according to Hopkins, later that week he and a teammate saw Vallante on campus with a potential recruit.
Lowery and Anderson said it was the same month when they decided the alleged harassment had to stop and met with NEC Athletic Director, Lori Runksmeier.
“We gave her the overview of what was happening and told her, ‘He’s calling us at home, on our dorm phones and always trying to have sexual conversations’ and she said she’d look into it — and that was the last we heard from Lori,” Anderson said.
When contacted by The Equinox, Runksmeier, still the NEC Athletic Director, referred all questions to NEC VP of Advancement & Communications, Morgan Smith.
Lowery and Anderson also reported they had individual meetings with former NEC President Ellen Hurwitz where Hurwitz said local authorities were going to be contacted.
Messages left with Hurwitz’s current employer were not returned by press time.
In a team meeting with former NEC Vice President for Student Affairs, Joe Petrick, all four former players reported Petrick told them counseling would be offered.
“He [Petrick] said if anyone wants to have counseling or talk to anybody, that counselors would be made available and that the local authorities were notified about it and that we should be hearing more about it shortly — and that was the last thing we ever heard about it. No one ever contacted us,” Anderson said.
Petrick did not return any of The Equinox’s messages by press time.
Lowery also expressed anger that NEC didn’t fire Vallante.
“He should’ve been terminated so that he had a record on file, so that he wouldn’t have an opportunity to work with kids again,” Lowery said.
“That was our biggest thing, ‘It happened to us, ok, we’ll get over it at some point in our lives, but we don’t want it to happen again.’ So that’s why we spoke up,” Lowery said.
Vallante left NEC in April of 2002. According to his resume, over the next three years Vallante was an investment representative at Fleet Bank in Salem and then at Bank of America in Keene.
He began working for Keene State College again by July of 2005.
Julie Conlon contributed to this story.
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