Younger players on the Rowan County High School football team suffered concussions at the hands of older players, and parents reported that the culture of the team resulted in other injuries, hazing and beatings, an Office of Education Accountability investigation found.
A July 8 report from the OEA said Rowan County Schools Superintendent Marvin Moore and high school principal Ray Ginter violated state law by failing to investigate allegations last fall and failing to provide a safe school.
The report called on Moore to make sure that the Kentucky Center for Safe Schools conducts a safe school assessment and that the district is enrolled with the center’s anonymous reporting program for unsafe situations.
By Aug. 15, Moore, Ginter, all coaches and all athletic directors must receive three hours of training.
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“We always put our kids first and take any concerns very, very seriously,” Moore told the Herald-Leader.
Moore said he and Ginter provided documentation to the OEA showing that “we addressed each one of the concerns in question.”
“We investigated fully and appropriately,” Ginter said.
A separate allegation, that seniors on the girls soccer team made younger students run as a disciplinary measure, was promptly investigated, the report said. Ginter informed coach Randy Wallace that the practice could be perceived as hazing, and Wallace “immediately discontinued the practice,” the report said.
Of the football program allegations, Moore said, “This has been a personnel issue that we addressed as soon as it was brought to our attention.”
Julian Tackett, commissioner of the Kentucky High School Athletics Association, said the investigation isn’t within the KHSAA’s jurisdiction, so no action is planned.
Ray Graham was hired as the football coach in May 2014, according to the Rowan school district website. He had previously been the coach at Lexington Christian Academy and Harrison County High School. Graham was suspended as coach in February pending the Office of Education Accountability investigation, and his contract wasn’t renewed for the coming season.
Gene Peterson was named football coach in May.
C. Ed Massey, an attorney representing Graham, said in a statement Monday, “Coach Graham adamantly denies the findings as they relate to his misconduct. The findings were made without specificity and without any substantive proof of wrongdoing.”
The OEA report said players, primarily freshmen and sophomores, suffered an estimated 20 concussions during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 football seasons. Most of the concussions occurred during practices and were inflicted primarily by junior and senior players.
The high school provided documentation that four concussions during practice in the 2014-15 season were inflicted by the same player through helmet-to-helmet contact after a whistle had been blown to stop play, the report said.
Eight of 12 concussions in the 2015-16 school year occurred during practice when players weren’t supposed to be playing, the report said. In one case, “a player kicked the head of a downed player,” the report said.
The statement by Massey, Graham’s attorney, said, “Coach Graham did not personally observe the conduct. … At all times, the safety of his players was paramount. The report references concussions but there is inconclusive proof of the same. Furthermore, concussions are a reality of contact sports and at times are unfortunately unavoidable. Notwithstanding, Coach Graham always took necessary precautions and steps to assure the safety of all participants.”
Parents reported to state investigators that senior players mistreated underclassmen, pushing them, stealing money, taking clothes and shoes from lockers, , and in one case, throwing a player’s clothes onto the roof of a building. That player was injured while climbing to the roof to retrieve his clothes, and the injury affected his ability to play football that season, the OEA report said.
Investigators received reports of freshman and sophomore players being hit repeatedly by senior players until the underclassmen were crying in pain. Senior players twice injured a player’s leg and then threatened to break the leg. Parents reported inappropriate photos being taken by senior players in the locker room and harassment of freshmen and sophomores in the locker room. Name-calling occurred continuously during practice, the report said.
Parents reported that hazing and bullying at football camp included junior and senior players hitting freshman and sophomores with socks filled with talcum powder and forcing them to drink an unknown concoction. In another instance, liquid was poured on a bed and the player in the bed was told the liquid was urine. The player jumped to get out of the bed and injured his wrist.
A parent reported that senior players were allowed to deal with younger players caught with marijuana at camp. Students whose parents complained about incidents were allegedly subjected to retaliation,the report said.
The report said Graham had a senior leadership program and that seniors reported problems on the team to him.
Graham told school officials that he had never observed seniors picking on underclassmen, but that he had dealt with the parent concerns, the report said.
Graham failed to notify Ginter and Moore of possible violations of the student code of conduct, the report said. Instead, he chose to deal with the players directly. Players were able to violate the code without punishment except for extra conditioning at practice, the report said.
In response to those allegations, Massey wrote that the allegations and the investigation were unfortunate, but
“Coach Graham denies any involvement in inappropriate conduct.”
Ginter was aware of many of the allegations, but
failed to initiate investigations during the 2015 season, the report said.
Other issues involving lack of adult supervision of the team also were also reported to the OEA.
Moore told the Herald-Leader that he would look at the report and make sure “we deal with every situation.”
“Whether we are right or wrong,” Ginter said, “I agree that training is important.”
Massey said the investigation “at best was incomplete.”
“As expected in all high school sports programs, allegations are often made by players and parents regarding their subjective interpretation of events. Coach Graham inherited a less than optimal program when he became head coach. He initiated parameters for his players and the parents of his players,” Massey said.
Massey also said it’s unclear whether investigators interviewed any people or players who signed a petition in support of Graham. That petition, with about 2,000 signatures, including all but two of the football team’s players, was presented to the school board, he said.
“This is not indicative of a coach who is involved in conduct as alleged, and therefore the merit of the report must be called into question,” the attorney said.
Massey said Graham had recently been a volunteer coach for the Georgetown College football team.