Duxbury consistently ranks among the wealthier towns in Massachusetts, and its high school football team is a perennial powerhouse. Since 2005, when the school hired Dave Maimaron as coach, the team has won five championships.
But on Wednesday, Mr. Maimaron was fired after school officials acknowledged that his players had used anti-Semitic terms as play calls at the line of scrimmage during a game this month.
School administrators did not disclose what those words were but denounced them as “horrifying and disappointing.” The school district said it was working with the Anti-Defamation League to respond and had hired a private lawyer to conduct a full investigation.
Robert Trestan, the director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New England region, said the players had used “Auschwitz,” “rabbi” and “dreidel” as audibles — or last-minute play calls — during a game on March 12 against Plymouth North High School.
Mr. Trestan said a thorough investigation was necessary to determine how long the players had been using anti-Semitic terms, who was responsible and why nobody had recognized that the language was a problem.
He noted that unlike anti-Semitic or racist slurs hurled by a player or a fan, audibles must be decided on as a team to signal a change in play.
“What’s unique here is this appears to be part of the program, part of the playbook, which is an indication it was more systemic,” Mr. Trestan said in an interview.
On Wednesday, Duxbury school and district officials released a statement acknowledging the turmoil the episode had caused.
“First, we want to be perfectly clear that we recognize how serious this is, and it is getting our undivided attention,” the statement said. “We also recognize that this is an emotionally charged issue for our community, and many outside of our community. The outrage is real, warranted, and we hear it.”
In addition to being fired as coach, Mr. Maimaron has been placed on paid administrative leave from his job as a high school teacher, pending an investigation, school officials said. The district said it had also canceled a varsity football game that had been scheduled for Friday night as well as junior varsity and freshman games scheduled for Saturday and Monday.
A decision about future games and the fate of the football season will be made at a later date, school officials said.
Duxbury school officials made it clear that they did not blame the students alone for using what they called “offensive language, including anti-Semitic language.”
“It is important to note that while the players clearly demonstrated poor judgment, the responsibility for this incident also lies with the adults overseeing the program,” the district said. “In short, this was a systemic failure.”
Mr. Maimaron did not respond to messages on Wednesday but had previously apologized for the “insensitive, crass and inappropriate language used in the game on March 12th.”
“Using the term was careless, unnecessary and most importantly hurtful on its face — inexcusable,” he said in a statement released by the district on Monday.
Mr. Maimaron said the episode, previously reported by The Boston Globe, did not reflect the values of the football program, the high school or the town.
“As a special-education teacher and a coach, with a multiracial family, I have a lengthy record of helping students and athletes of all races, religions and capabilities to become the best they can be,” Mr. Maimaron said. “I view the football field in particular to be the largest classroom in the school and have developed an inclusive program that welcomes, and makes part of the team, any student who wishes to participate.”
Mr. Maimaron’s union, the Duxbury Teachers Association, said “the allegations of anti-Semitism deserve an immediate and fair investigation, the findings of which will help guide all of us in the district in making sure that students, staff and members of our community are treated with dignity and respect.”
The episode has prompted heated discussions in Duxbury, a seaside town of about 16,000, 35 miles south of Boston, which is known for its high-performing schools with strong athletics and arts programs, said Bruce Rutter, a member of Duxbury for All, a community group that promotes diversity, equity and inclusion.
Mr. Rutter said that some residents in town were upset that Mr. Maimaron had been fired after such a successful record as coach. But Mr. Rutter said that he believed discipline was necessary; otherwise, he said, “it sends a signal what we accept that behavior — and we don’t.”
“We’re hoping it is a teachable moment for everyone in town,” he said in an interview on Wednesday. “It’s a nice community, and it’s pretty progressive. But like all white, affluent communities, there are always some kinds of bias, and we need to understand and reflect on it and teach our kids not to perpetuate it.”