“You could tell it was different with things their kids said and how they acted, and that it's just a volatile situation with [Ooltewah's] players," ”
The public may ask questions and voice opinions about the Ooltewah case at two upcoming public forums.
The first will take place after Thursday’s school board work session, scheduled to start at 5 p.m.
The second forum will follow the board’s regular business meeting Jan. 21 at 5:30 p.m.
Both forums will be held at the schools’ central office, 6703 Bonny Oaks Drive.
As new reports surfaced about misbehavior by Ooltewah High School's basketball team before the Dec. 22 assault on a teammate, the Hamilton County school board chairman publicly apologized Sunday for failing to provide information at a board meeting last week.
Board of Education Chairman Jonathan Welch released a statement Sunday taking responsibility and apologizing for Wednesday's public meeting which lasted less than four minutes, admitting that his abrupt strike of the gavel adjourning the meeting left the audience of more than 100 people with no answers.
Welch said he was acting on the advice of the board's legal counsel and the Hamilton County district attorney, who both told him not to discuss the criminal investigation of the alleged rape and assault of an Ooltewah freshman by three older teammates.
Welch said it's the board's responsibility to oversee the school system and to keep parents and the community informed about its efforts to discover what happened on the team's trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn., and ensure that it never happens again.
"I came up short on both Wednesday night — and I apologize," Welch wrote. "I will do better."
Welch said he has scheduled two public forums in the next couple of weeks where people may ask questions and voice their concerns to the school board.
"I cannot take back any of the mistakes made in trying to protect the integrity of the independent investigations and the rights and privacy of those involved," Welch wrote. "But we can work to do better in sharing what we are doing — and to listen even more carefully to parents, educators and taxpayers in our community as we move forward."
New reports surface
Meanwhile, Lebanon High School head coach Jim McDowell, whose team played Ooltewah hours before the assault, told the Times Free Press the Owls players were more troublesome than any team they've played this season.
"You could tell that [Ooltewah] had some kids on their team that had a different mindset than other teams we've played," McDowell said.
Lebanon defeated Ooltewah 74-60 in a game that began at 11:30 a.m. in the Smoky Mountain Classic basketball tournament.
McDowell said one of the boys who is now charged with aggravated rape and aggravated assault of his teammate threatened multiple times during the game to shoot one of his players.
"I'll f-----g shoot you," the coach said his player was told.
McDowell said nothing escalated beyond trash-talking during the game. Afterward, he said, some Ooltewah players waited for his team in the parking lot to continue the verbal harassment.
"I didn't see any of their coaches there," McDowell said. "I wasn't sure why they were doing that, or where their coaches were, but our assistant coach and some of our parents made sure we got our guys on the bus and away from that situation."
McDowell said, "You could tell it was different, with things their kids said and how they acted, and that it's just a volatile situation with their players."
A few hours later, three Ooltewah players allegedly assaulted and raped a 15-year-old teammate with a pool cue, causing extensive internal injuries that required surgery to repair, according to Sevier County Juvenile Court records.
The assault happened in the basement of the cabin the team was renting. Records show a 17-year-old boy pushed a pool cue into the boy's rectum while two 16-year-old teammates held the victim down.
The next day, Ooltewah High School stepped back onto the court and played Beech High School.
McDowell said he warned the Beech coach before the game how roughly Ooltewah plays. He said one tournament team shot 54 free throws because of fouls by Ooltewah players, including a technical foul by one of the players now charged with assault and rape.
McDowell said he realized Ooltewah head coach Andre Montgomery and several of the team's key players weren't at the Beech game, and an Ooltewah parent told him Montgomery "ended up having to take care of some business."
Multiple sources told the Times Free Press that Montgomery was at the hospital in Knoxville with the victim, and the three suspects were taken home. They were not arrested by Sevier County authorities until after Christmas, the sources said.
McDowell said once news about the assault surfaced he called a meeting of his own team. He told his players that situations like this are one of the reasons he and the other coaches and chaperones keep track of where the boys are during road trips.
McDowell said one player called him afterward, very shaken up by what happened to the Ooltewah freshman.
"He couldn't believe someone would do something like that to a teammate and that we had just played them earlier before all that happened," McDowell said. "It really bothered him."
Sports editor Stephen Hargis contributed to this report.
Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow on twitter @kendi_and.