CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — A Tennessee school superintendent, amid public concerns of a possible cover-up, on Wednesday canceled the remainder of the season for a boys’ varsity basketball team, weeks after a freshman player said he was raped by teammates.
Hamilton County Superintendent Rick Smith took the action two weeks after the Ooltewah High School team attended a tournament in Gatlinburg. He said his decision was not a reflection on the coaching staff but was needed so that criminal investigators can do their job.
Three juveniles face aggravated rape and aggravated assault charges in the December 22 alleged incident. The victim, 15, was hospitalized and required surgery. His grandmother told CNN he was assaulted with a pool stick.
The school board met in executive session and held a public hearing Wednesday evening that lasted only a few minutes.
Board Chairman Jonathan Welch said he and others have struggled to come up with the right words to describe the case that has roiled the community.
“Tragic, horrific, none describe it,” he said.
Investigation of other allegations
Welch said that emails from the public show concern of a “cover-up,” that any discipline will be taken on a scapegoat and that institutional problems that may be discovered will be “swept under the rug.”
The Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office is investigating allegations freshmen were assaulted by older teammates before the December incident.
The office, while saying Monday no one has reported any criminal behavior, said media reports have cited family members of freshmen as saying there has been “an ongoing pattern of assaults allegedly committed under the guise of hazing.”
CNN Chattanooga affiliate WTVC quoted the boy’s grandmother as saying there could have been an emergency hearing about safety concerns before Wednesday. She is not satisfied with the three accused athletes being kicked off the team and wants them permanently expelled. “Legal actions will be taken against all negligent parties,” she said in a statement.
CNN is not naming the grandmother of the alleged victim because identifying her could in turn identify a sexual assault victim. CNN does not identify such victims.
WTVC reported that the accused teens will be in court on January 26 in Sevier County, home to Gatlinburg.
Boy underwent surgery
According to Gatlinburg police, the assault allegedly occurred at a rental cabin. The team’s coach took the victim to a local hospital. The boy was later sent to a hospital in Knoxville, where he underwent surgery.
The alleged victim’s grandmother said there were no adults around when the incident occurred. She said two of the players held her grandson down while a third assaulted him with a pool stick. Gatlinburg police statements do not mention a pool stick.
Her grandson was released from the hospital and is home recovering.
Superintendent Smith spoke on Wednesday morning to a PTA group and called the situation a “tragedy.” He would not take questions from parents or the media at that meeting.
At its session, Welch said the board knew there is a lack of confidence in the school system. But he cautioned officials could not yet provide answers to a multitude of questions.
“Due to the ongoing investigation and the necessary deference to it, the public has been left to the impression that we on the board seem not to be aware or not truly concerned of the serious nature of the events,” he said, adding the board can later address any policy and procedure reforms to prevent such incidents.
Hamilton County is in southeastern Tennessee; the county seat is Chattanooga.