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AAU sued for allowing Rick Butler to coach in under-18 tournament

The Amateur Athletic Union is being sued for allowing a prominent volleyball coach, who left his volunteer AAU post after decades-old findings of sexual molestation resurfaced, to return to the youth sport's biggest stage this week.

Rick Butler, 61, stepped down from his role as the Illinois district director of the AAU in July after Outside the Lines reported on demands by victims' rights advocates that he be removed from his post.

Butler was under a lifetime ban from a different national organization, USA Volleyball, for initiating sexual relationships with three underage players in the mid-1980s. The advocates said that that by affiliating itself with Butler, the AAU, the largest youth sports group in the nation, was ignoring reforms it put in place after sexual-abuse allegations against its former president four years earlier.

Butler, who has denied wrongdoing, took the court this week as coach of an under-18 girls team in the AAU Girls' Junior National Volleyball Championships in Orlando, Florida.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Orange County, Florida, Sarah Powers-Barnhard, one of the women whose earlier testimony led to Butler's ban, alleges "the AAU knows that it has a duty to remove Butler from his position of coaching underage girls but has failed to do so."

Butler's move to step aside from his administrative post in July came as the AAU's leaders promised to undertake "an independent review of our practices and procedures throughout the organization, especially those that relate to our youth."

The status of the review, however, is unclear. Outside the Lines this week tried to ask AAU president Roger Goudy about the promised initiative, but he referred questions to an outside public relations firm, Abernathy MacGregor. On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the agency said the AAU would have no comment.

Lauren Book, a Florida-based child-protection advocate who worked on the AAU reforms four years ago, told Outside the Lines this week that she has also tried to reach Goudy in the past year, but calls and emails have gone unreturned.

"The AAU has a responsibility to protect the children who participate in their programs," she said. "This demonstrates a blatant disregard for child welfare in favor of championship trophies and gold medals."

Butler is coaching this week in the same tournament as Powers-Barnhard, who went public with her story last year. In her lawsuit, she charged that Butler first had "sexual contact" with her during the 1983 Junior Olympics, an event overseen by the AAU, when she was a minor.

"It's affected my whole life," she told Outside the Lines. "That [was] not a normal, healthy way to start your teenage years or have your first sexual experience."

Her lawsuit accuses the AAU of breaching its "duty of care to minors ... by holding Butler out ... as trustworthy and safe. And the AAU has now again breached their duty of care to Plaintiff as an adult and coach."

In a separate letter to Goudy on Thursday, Powers-Barnhard requested the immediate suspension and subsequent expulsion of Butler from "all AAU events and any AAU-related events."

Her attorneys also requested a meeting "to discuss additional remedies we propose in the best interests of Ms. Powers-Barnhard and other athletes injured by sexual abuse and/or exploitation by your coaches, staff and other members."

Goudy and Butler did not immediately respond to emails sent Thursday afternoon seeking comment.

In 1995, Powers-Barnhard and two other women, who were 16- and 17-year-old girls when Butler had sex with them, testified before a USA Volleyball ethics panel. After also listening to a vigorous defense from Butler, who insisted the girls were all 18 when he became involved with them, the panel concluded that Butler exhibited "immorality, lack of judgment and unacceptable behavior."

Butler never faced criminal charges. USA Volleyball, however, took the rare step of banning him from coaching 18-and-under players for life.

Even so, Butler went onto enormous influence in the AAU, where volleyball is the second-largest sport behind basketball. His Chicago-based club, Sports Performance, is a perennial power that has won the past three 18-and-under titles. And a league that he helped start, the Junior Volleyball Association, merged its national championship with the AAU's in 2010, creating a mega-event that lures thousands of teams and earns millions of dollars.

In a statement to Outside the Lines last year, the coach's lawyer wrote: "Mr. Rick Butler is a highly respected and talented professional, happily married for 21 years and a father of one, whom has dedicated his life to the sport of volleyball. ... Mr. Butler denies any wrongdoing or illegal activity, nor has he ever been disciplined with the AAU or charged."

But Book and other child-protection advocates who worked on an AAU task force to enact reforms in 2012 say his presence violates one of their key rules: "A determination of ineligibility to have access to youth by another" group "is sufficient grounds to render the person ineligible to participate in the AAU."

Powers-Barnhard's suit seeks judgment against the AAU for damages "and any other relief the Court deems proper."