Wiedmer: Could Ooltewah situation become another Penn State?

Wiedmer: Could Ooltewah situation become another Penn State?

January 12th, 2016 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Ooltewah High School is photographed on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, near Chattanooga, Tenn.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

The words first appeared on the bottom of ESPN's viewing screen on Nov. 4, 2011. Running every minute or so along the sports network's news ticker, they told of former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky being indicted by a grand jury on child molestation charges.

With college football in high gear that Saturday evening, those words didn't immediately garner huge attention. In fact, had you written that night that the fallout from this crime would directly lead to the resignation of then-PSU president Graham Spanier and the ousters of athletic director Tim Curley and legendary football coach Joe Paterno — as well as Paterno's bronze statue eventually being removed from Beaver Stadium — you might well have been labeled a fool.

But that's exactly what happened. And more. Much more. And all of it was the result of otherwise responsible adults grossly underestimating the overwhelming feelings of anger and frustration that can boil over in ordinary people when they learn that not only have helpless children been sexually abused, but that grown-ups with the power to stop it looked the other way.

Sound familiar?

This is not to say that what happened one horrible night in a rented Gatlinburg cabin to an Ooltewah High School freshman basketball player necessarily compares to Sandusky sexually abusing numerous young boys for decades while a handful of PSU power brokers swept it under the rug.

As of now it remains one heinous, despicable, unforgivable act of rape by three older Owls players against a younger teammate. As disgusting and disturbing as it is — this singular act of shoving a pool cue up a young man's rectum for the expressed purpose of hazing him — there is yet no concrete evidence of an abusive culture at Ooltewah.

At least everyone in a position of power at the school best hope there is not.

Ooltewah High School head basketball coach Andrew "Tank" Montgomery has his hands full not only with his team but now with the rape and assault charges leveled at three of his now-dismissed players.

Ooltewah High School head basketball coach Andrew "Tank"...

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

However, the appearance of inaction in the weeks since that rape by those in charge would seem to be creating a similar degree of concern and contempt within our community to the rage that ultimately wrecked the careers of Spanier, Curley and Paterno, who died within months of Sandusky's indictment.

We can't understand how such a disturbing criminal act can take place inside the same cabin where adults were supposedly chaperoning these young people. We can't understand how young men whom an opposing coach has since accused of threatening his players could be allowed to represent Ooltewah. We can't understand why the school board basically stonewalled the public during an awkward meeting last week.

We really can't understand why — at least some of us can't — why this hasn't been more strongly labeled rape, which could deliver a very long jail term to the thug who rammed that pool cue up the youngster's rectum.

And because we can't — and those in charge have provided so little information about how they intend to prevent such abhorrent behavior in the future — the frustration and anger have understandably grown. Petitions are being circulated to terminate everyone from Ooltewah boys' basketball coach Andre "Tank" Montgomery (who was reassigned to another part of the district by superintendent Rick Smith on Monday) to Smith himself.

There are even claims that other players possibly were assaulted by the three players facing criminal charges, though no others were raped, reportedly.

It's all guaranteed to further sully the reputation of a school system already under fire for academic mediocrity and ramp up an oft-asked question from afar: Who's in charge here anyway?

But for all the frustration and anger and embarrassment over adults who should know better, there seems to be little focus on the victim and what it's liked to be raped.

"It's traumatic," said Bergen Baucom Aldahir, the communications and community outreach coordinator for the city's Partnership for Families, Children and Adults, which also runs the Rape Crisis Center.

"Rape has a higher instance of post traumatic stress disorder than war. Depression often sets in. Victims of rape are more likely to commit suicide, quit school, abuse drugs and alcohol."

Sadly, Baucom Aldahir understands rape better than most. She was a date-rape victim while a student at Alabama. The man never spent a day in jail, which is the case, according to Baucom Aldahir, with 97 out of every 100 rapists. Though she can't comment on the Ooltewah case, Baucom Aldahir did note that only 3 percent of rape victims are men.

Thankfully, after two years of intense counseling — "Rape is very humiliating, embarrassing and silencing; the victim often feels such shame," she observed — Baucom Aldahir returned to school at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, got a communications degree, began a career in television journalism, made a documentary about rape that's aired on CNN, then went to work for the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults. Less than a year ago she married.

Her one general thought on the Ooltewah situation?

"This was a brutal crime, but rape doesn't have a scale," she said. "Rape is rape. And this is a very sad indication of the long uphill battle we face in fighting rape in our society."

In what was possibly a belated attempt to shorten that battle, Hamilton County Board of Education chairman Jonathan Welch noted Sunday in a statement to appease those angry over the lack of answers at last week's public meeting: "I came up short and I apologize. I will do better."

All of the adults in power need to quickly do much better by the victim (or victims) in this case, lest an angry and frustrated public force their current jobs to disappear like Paterno's statue from Beaver Stadium.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

More Ooltewah rape case stories

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