Teammates, head coach, AD react to Baty's departure
In a sudden move that he said was dictated by a family business decision, Turner Baty has moved back to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Baty, who helped lead the Rams to a fourth straight state title in December, took over at quarterback a quarter of the way into the season, replacing senior co-captain Willie Ouellette.
The decision to leave town was made last week, and news of Baty's departure began to spread quickly throughout the halls at the high school. Baty's parents could not be reached for comment, and he avoided talking to all press before agreeing to speak about the leave with the New Canaan News Tuesday afternoon as he said his goodbyes to coaches and former teammates at New Canaan High School.
He addressed the reaction he assumed many people may have when they learned he was moving back to Florida: he only came to play football for an FCIAC powerhouse because he wouldn't have gotten the playing time at Florida powerhouse St Thomas Aquinas.
"It's just a bad situation," Baty said. "But, honestly, people can perceive whatever they want to perceive. I was not recruited (to New Canaan). We knew the Hanrattys from before. I know everyone talks about that. They said it was a great place to live. My mom told them we wanted to live in the New York-Connecticut area."
Baty was referring to Terry Hanratty, the former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback who is acquaintances with Turner's father, Greg, who also played in the NFL. Terry's son, Connor, will be a senior next year and is considered a Division I offensive-line prospect.
Baty moved to New Canaan in September to live with his mother, Kathleen, who was believed to be an employee with ESPN. Initially, it is also believed, she was given a job opportunity that would require her time in New York City and in Bristol.
But her new opportunity, in California, meant an immediate move -- Baty would not have a place to live in Connecticut. His father has continued to live in Florida ever since Baty's move to Connecticut, as the parents are divorced.
"I'm a kid," Baty said. "This is my parents' decision. ... It's not like, `Oh, yeah, I'm packing up and leaving right after the state championship!' It's my parents' decision."
While teammates waited to speak with the News in the hallway, Baty spoke in head coach Lou Marinelli's office, in front of Marinelli, about boomeranging back south.
"There was no wrongdoing," Baty reiterated. "Families move. I know this is a small town and not a lot of that happens here, though."
THE COACH SPEAKS
Marinelli spoke about one of his two title-winning quarterbacks (Ouellette did split time at receiver when he wasn't behind center) having to leave New Canaan.
"It's an unfortunate situation," Marinelli said. "We would've loved to have had him for the whole year, and it comes as somewhat of a surprise, but from what I understand, it's a family decision. He's in a tough situation. I feel bad for him. I feel bad he can't graduate here. And I feel bad for the way it can perceived, because that's not what it is."
Baty said the most frustrating thing for him was being separated from his family more than he's even used to now.
"I sure as hell didn't see this coming, and it kind of sucks, because now I'm going to be living without my brothers for the last three months I have before college," Baty said. "I'm very bummed out, but do I have any regrets? No. I had an unbelievable time here."
Baty has two younger brothers, who are moving to California with his mother. He said his reasoning for choosing to go back to St. Thomas Aquinas, where he began the school year, was predicated on having a girlfriend, with whom he's kept a long-distance relationship since moving to New Canaan, and the familiarity of already having lived with his father there.
"[My mom's] taking my brothers out there, and now I have to split up with them," Baty said. "I have to live with one of my parents, so I'm going to live with my dad, who I've lived with in Fort Lauderdale before."
THE PLAYERS REACT
Co-captain Cody Newton said a majority of the players on the team were a bit stunned by the transgressions, given what Baty had told the team on the night before the state title game, when he claimed he would not leave New Canaan, regardless of speculation that suggested otherwise.
"I think, as a whole, we're a little bit disappointed," Newton said. "It's kind of a shock. We thought he was going to stay. There were previous articles [that were printed stating he would leave] but he denied that."
Another wrinkle is Baty's claim that finances and the cost of living in Connecticut were also a catalyst for his mother finding a job out West.
"He's saying it's a financial issue and [his family] can't afford to live here anymore, and we can't say that's not true," Newton said. "If that's what it is, we can't blame him for it."
Ouellette wondered aloud why Baty's family ever decided to come to New Canaan to begin with.
"I just don't see a reason why, if he was such a standout quarterback at St. Thomas Aquinas, he had to transfer to New Canaan. And if somehow [the family] is financially wrong, personally, I don't understand why he came here in the first place. I know football is a great tradition in New Canaan, but as I look at it right now, it upsets me just as much as when I heard he was coming in."
Co-captain Cole Duncan spoke about the team's disappointment with the Baty's family decision to both come to and leave New Canaan.
"I think I'm speaking for everyone here. I feel like we were lied to," Duncan said.
But, at the same time, a seed of doubt existed in many of the players' minds throughout the season.
"I could've called this at the beginning of the season," Duncan said.
"We all could have," Newton added.
The primary frustration with the players is over the fact that Ouellette wasn't given a chance to lead his closest friends for an entire season, like they all had envisioned for so long. Had Baty not come, the team believed they still would've won a title with the lefty behind center.
"That's out of the question," Duncan said. "If Turner wasn't here, it's not like we wouldn't have won. ... But now that it's happening, it's shocking. And I feel worse for Willie, because there's nothing we can do to give him back his season."
The pride that the Rams played with during the season was still evident in Marinelli's office during the group interview.
"Not one person can win a state championship," Newton said. "We did it as a team and we could've done it as a team without him."
Duncan said : "We gave him all the chances we would give anybody. We had a meeting at the beginning of the season and we basically said what we don't want to have happen is the locker room be divided. ... We tried our best. We gave him every chance we could."
There has been some discussion that Baty was never welcomed into the team's inner circle by a large number of the players. A story has even been floated that Baty attempted to assemble a pickup football game in the snow -- Baty had never seen snow prior to this past winter -- the week of the championship game, only to be greeted by harsh text messages from teammates.
Conversely, Ouellette revealed, for the first time publicly, some of the things he heard about Baty's actions and words when he wasn't around.
"I've heard a lot from different people about him talking against me when all I did was try and help him," Ouellette said. "To me, I just feel like ... during the season, he brought a lot to our team. He was our quarterback and led to a state championship. But what I tried to do for him was helpful and I feel like he didn't take any of that away. He wasn't appreciative of what happened."
The night before the state title game, the players gathered in the woods behind the Dunning Field at the high school. A tradition took place, and it is called the burning of the shoe. At that ceremony, players let everything out about the season, their senior years, etc. Players said Baty proclaimed his dedication to them as friends, the football program and his promise that he would be a "Ram for life." He also shot down claims that were made on a Connecticut Post/Stamford Advocate blog that he could leave once football season ended.
"He was very emotional about [the article] and started crying in front of us," Duncan said. " `It's all BS,' basically, that's what he said.
Geoff Young backed up Duncan's story.
"He said I'm a Ram for life," Young said. "He said, `I'm not moving back after the season.' He said, `I'm a Ram now, so let's go win a state championship.'"
Newton, Young, Ouellette, Duncan and Hunter Eldred, who attended the group interview but didn't speak on the record, all insisted they gave Baty plenty of chances. They just wish he would've been more truthful with everyone from the beginning. If the possibility of him leaving town existed, they would have rather known about it all along instead of having their suspicions come to fruition.
"Off the field I don't know how much I really trust him," Ouellette said. "As you can see, he's walking away on us after sitting there at the campfire, bawling his eyes out and telling us he was a Ram forever."
The players said they empathized with Baty's situation and his lack of control over moving, but said his character outside of the locker room didn't endear him to many of the seniors on the team.
"All of us treated him as if he were one of our best friends," Ouellette said. "In the locker room and on the football field I feel like he was a different person than he was off the field."
From a football perspective, the team didn't have a chemistry issue.
"We were on team together," Young said. "We had a common goal. We wanted to win the state championship."
Now that Baty has moved back to Florida, the players want to get the message out that New Canaan football isn't about bringing in talented players from other areas for the mere purpose of winning championships.
"We just don't want our legacy to be tarnished because of this," Newton said. "It shouldn't be, because New Canaan football is a great, great tradition. Like, `Oh, they recruit now' and all that. It's not true and coach Marinelli should not have that put on him."
Duncan gave an impassioned plea that echoed Newton's words.
"What I don't want to have happen is New Canaan's reputation as a football program just to go down the tubes because of this," Duncan said.
EGAN ADDRESSES THE SITUATION
New Canaan athletic director Jay Egan wanted to make one thing clear: The Baty family wanted to move to New Canaan, so in doing so, Turner abided by all proper protocol to registering with the New Canaan school system. By that nature, any hints that Baty was speficially sought out to play at the high school would be false.
"We didn't recruit Turner Baty to come to New Canaan High School. I know that did not happen," Egan said. "That would be my only concern, if we actively recruited him, which we did not do. I wish he would've stayed and finished out the year. I think the reasons why he's leaving are personal and family reasons and that's what I was told and that's what I believe."
Egan also said the Batys' friendship with the Hanratty family would lead to a natural decision: move to where you know somebody.
"It would be like a talented swimmer knowning someone from Greenwich and wanting to move to Greenwich," he said.
If a situation like this happened in the future, the school administration would act the same way, Egan added. When it came to football, it would be a coach's decision whether or not a new student would get to wear a uniform and/or see playing time.
"It is a public school, and [the Baty family] moved to New Canaan, had legal residence, met the CIAC criteria for eligibility -- so he's eligible to play," Egan said. "So it's really not a matter of what we would do again. We would probably treat the next situation the same way we treated this one because there's no other way to do it. It was unusual situation to begin with. I'm not saying. It's normal that a senior quarterback with is skill level and experience moves into a school district, but it happened."
Ouellette said he wants to move on from all of this now, though. He knows what he was capable of doing with this team and said he was grateful for being a part of a title-winning season in his senior year.
"What happened happened. It's February now. We won the state championship in December," Ouellette said. "Just to know that I was a part of it in some way means a lot to me. But playing with all these kids as their quarterback since such a young age, I definitely took it a lot harder than anyone else. Everyone else that I know was on my side and, you know, I kept doing what I did, but deep down, every single day, I knew how much different it was to play wide receiver rather than be behind center."