Dave Curley called it "a brief moment in time."
Last Saturday, his Rockport boys soccer program clinched at least a share of the Cape Ann League Baker Division championship with a 1-0 win at rival Georgetown, which was also alive in the league race heading into the game.
To celebrate the moment, the Vikings took a few team photos on the field after the game as it was the program's first CAL championship since 2013.
After several photos with masks on, the Vikings took another photo, this time with their masks down.
"I haven't been able to see anyone's faces this entire season," said Curley. "I wanted a photo to remember the team and the season with the kids smiling faces. I told everyone to hold their breath first, and it was a quick snap shot, I'd say a little more than two seconds but certainly not more than five."
The team photos, including the single, maskless shot, made their way onto Facebook, which drew the complaint of someone in the public, who shared the photo with Rockport Superintendent Robert Liebow.
The fallout saw Liebow hit Curley with a one-game suspension, in the team's final game against Lynnfield this past Monday night, a game where Rockport needed a single point to clinch the CAL Baker championship on its own. Rockport was able to salvage a scoreless tie with school Athletic Director and girls varsity soccer coach John Parisi coaching the team. The point gave the Vikings the outright CAL Baker championship.
Liebow did not return multiple calls from the Gloucester Daily Times requesting comment.
Social distancing measures have been implemented this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and players are required to wear masks during games. According to multiple Public Health Officials, however, in order to be considered a close contact one must be within six feet from another for 15 straight minutes. The team photos fell well short of that mark according to Curley.
Curley has been coaching in Rockport for over four decades and the field behind Rockport High School, the Ryan Curley Athletic Field, is named after him and longtime field hockey coach and Athletic Director Mary Ryan.
"I take responsibility for the photo," Curley said. "And I didn't want to inconvenience anyone. But I feel the punishment does not fit the crime because the masks were down for a shorter period of time than our mandatory water breaks at practices and during games. To me a suspension means you did something really bad, and in over 40 years coaching soccer I have never even received a yellow card."
He also said that his team has been in compliance with social distancing recommendations all season.
"We have followed all the rules put in front of us," Curley said. "The players wore masks at all times in practices and games outside of the water breaks."
On the pitch, the Vikings played great in Curley's absence Monday night, earning a scoreless draw against a Lynnfield team that shared the CAL Kinney (Large School) Division.
Curley was able to watch the game through a stream on the internet.
"I couldn't have been more proud of the effort," Curley said. "I watched them implement their game plan perfectly against a really good team. This team has so much senior leadership and they knew what they needed to do."