Cooper: 'A culture of hazing'

An investigation by a private attorney but commissioned by the Hamilton County Board of Education found a "culture of hazing" existed on the 2015-2016 Ooltewah High School basketball team, which was then coached by Andre "Tank" Montgomery, pictured.

A private attorney's investigation into the basketball program at Ooltewah High School did not uncover much more than already had been alleged or charged following last December's pool-cue rape of a player during a basketball tournament in Gatlinburg, Tenn., but it did verify and clarify much that had been alleged about the team in the run-up to and actions following the incident.

Sadly, Courtney Bullard's report, which was commissioned by the Hamilton County Board of Education, concluded "a culture of hazing" existed on the 2015-2016 basketball team. It further said it would be "difficult to believe, that at a minimum, [then-head coach Andre 'Tank'] Montgomery was not aware of excessive horseplay." And it concluded then-Principal Jim Jarvis and then-Athletics Director Allard "Jesse" Nayadley failed to appropriately handle the situation.

However, as the report states, her investigation "is not a criminal investigation, and it is not a substitute for the pending criminal investigations."

Unfortunately, as Bullard was directed to only investigate the December incident, the attorney's report did not cover what students and former school employees told the Times Free Press earlier this year in an investigative report by Kendi Rainwater has been a years-long culture of coaches behaving inappropriately toward students and coaches and athletes receiving preferential treatment.

The attorney did say "she was unable to conclude whether a culture of bullying or hazing targeted at varsity freshmen players existed in the basketball program before the 2015-2016 season without expanding my investigation; however, it is highly likely that it did."

Since the incident, Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith resigned, Jarvis was transferred and then retired, and Nayadley and Montgomery are no longer working in the school district. The school board is preparing to search for a new superintendent, and interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly has installed a new leadership team, athletic director and basketball coach at Ooltewah High.

The report also includes a thorough examination of the school's training on bullying, hazing and sexual harassment. While it found "significant efforts to combat bullying," the school's training on hazing was "deficient," and its education on sexual harassment was "inadequate in some areas, disjointed in others and overall in need of improvement."

Its extensive recommendations on training and education, while based on the Ooltewah incident, are written for "all HCDE (Hamilton County Department of Education) and school administrators."

We urge school district leaders heed these recommendations and mandate that, where possible, all school administrators move forward with one set of policies and procedures on these subjects so everyone is on the same page every year.