Investigation: High school team had 'culture of hazing'
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- A Tennessee high school basketball team had "a culture of hazing and bullying" even before three of its players were charged with raping a teammate, according to an investigation into the incident.
But the investigation released Friday also said there was "no evidence" that Hamilton County school officials or Ooltewah High School administrators knew or should have known such an incident would occur.
Gatlinburg police say three Ooltewah players assaulted a freshman teammate with a pool cue Dec. 22 in an apparent hazing incident while the team was participating in a holiday tournament. Police have said the pool cue tore through the freshman's clothing and into his rectum, forcing emergency surgery. The three were charged as juveniles with aggravated rape.
Hamilton County school officials then commissioned an investigation conducted by attorney Courtney Bullard.
Bullard, who conducted 40 interviews, reported that nine Ooltewah players said the team participated in an activity they called "racking in" before the Gatlinburg incident. When "racking in," they said, upperclassmen turned out the lights in the locker room, grabbed a freshman and punched him from the neck down, without the intent to cause injury.
"Many players described `racking in' as horseplay or `boys being boys," Bullard said in her report. "This description is indicative of a desensitization and minimization of the behavior and a lack of education on what constitutes hazing."
Bullard also said she couldn't substantiate whether coach Andre Montgomery and assistant coach Karl Williams were aware of the hazing and bullying but "they certainly were aware of excessive horseplay." But she added that "there was no prior culture of sexual harassment on the basketball team and the assailants had no prior history of reported similar conduct."
Bullard's 24-page report recommended making training on Title IX mandatory for all Hamilton County Department of Education and school administrators, specifically identifying and addressing bullying, hazing and harassment. She also recommended training on proper reporting, and the repercussions for failure to report.
Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs.
"The report provides an opportunity to enhance our practices, provide better support and safety for all our students moving forward," interim Hamilton County Department of Education superintendent Kirk Kelly said. "The recommendations will serve as a guide to provide ongoing monitoring and development of best practices.
Kelly added that "while this has been a difficult time for many," it will mean officials are better positioned in the future to respond to problems.
Rick Smith, who was superintendent at the time of the incident, announced in March that he would retire July 1 and take leave effective immediately.
Montgomery, Williams and assistant principal Allard Nayadley were charged in Hamilton County with failure to report child sexual abuse to the proper authorities, though charges against Williams were dropped in May.
Montgomery was indicted in May on four counts of failing to report child sexual abuse.
Nayadley entered a pre-trial diversion program in May. If he complies with terms of that program, which include performing community service and taking a class on mandatory reporting, the charges can be removed from his record. He also recently announced he was resigning.
In addition, Gatlinburg police detective Rodney Burns faces aggravated perjury charges in Hamilton County stemming from his testimony in a preliminary hearing for the three Ooltewah High School officials.
Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com
Copyright 2016 by The Associated Press
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