Greeson: School leaders, it's time to lead after Ooltewah mess

Ooltewah High School is photographed on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, near Chattanooga, Tenn.
photo Jay Greeson
The Hamilton County Board of Education met Wednesday night trying to find answers in an unfathomable scenario.

No one can make sense of acts so evil as those perpetrated on an Ooltewah High School freshman basketball player allegedly raped with a pool cue by three teammates.

Reading that string of words makes everyone cringe. And pray. And wonder.

News emerged before the meeting that the rest of the school's basketball season has been canceled. Many think this should have happened in the hours after the Dec. 21 assault.

There is no good side in a tragedy of this magnitude, and we can never forget that the life of a 15-year-old boy who was trying to be part of a team has forever been changed.

That's the baseline on which every decision should be made going forward: doing everything possible to help this teenager and to prevent anything remotely similar from happening to anyone else.

With the season canceled, the next call needs to address the basketball coaching staff. There is no way for Andre Montgomery to continue. Either he knew about the potential of something like this happening or he had no idea this was happening. Indifference or ignorance is inexcusable.

Friends of Montgomery, and he has many, point to his many works with young people around the area, and that's fair. No one wants to be judged on the worst moment of their professional life, but simply put, how many parents would trust this coach to look out for their kids now?

As for the leadership at Ooltewah, the same questions must be asked. This incident has also pulled back the curtain on rumors about the culture at the school. And while it's wise not to believe everything you hear, if even a fraction of the stories coming from Ooltewah are true, then an overhaul from the top down needs to be considered.

Those are questions for schools Superintendent Rick Smith and the Board of Education, of course. The details - good and bad - about the atmosphere at Ooltewah will be part of those discussions; so, too, will be the knowledge that powerful actions must be taken so everyone involved at every level of every high school activity is clear that a crime of this magnitude - or the hazing from where it started - will not be tolerated.

That said, to say Ooltewah's horror is a sports-related problem is akin to saying the Knoxville-area teenager who protected three girls and sacrificed his life by shielding them from bullets did so in an act of sports heroism.

This is bigger than sports.

Hazing - and again, calling these acts hazing is saying the Titanic had a leak - has roots in all walks of life.

It's an issue that can't be handled by a directive from the mayor's desk or with lip service from the school board.

Zero tolerance starting this morning. A minimum number of chaperones on road trips. The precedent of firm penalties for the teachers, coaches and administrators involved. Exploring every option to make sure this never happens again.

For our school leaders, it's past time to lead.

Contact Jay Greeson at His "Right to the Point" column appears on A2 on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

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