Three basketball players at Ooltewah High School in Tennessee have been charged with the aggravated rape and assault of a 15-year-old freshman teammate on December 21.
Now, as the investigation into the troubling incident continues, Hamilton County superintendent Rick Smith has canceled the remainder of the basketball season since he says that speculation about the team “could threaten the integrity of law enforcement’s investigation.”
Two of the three boys charged are currently being held in the Sevier County Juvenile Facility, while one has been granted bond, according to WRCBtv.
The alleged assault — which is being referred to as an apparent hazing incident — occurred in a cabin on a team trip to Gatlinburg in December for a basketball tournament.
A family member of the accuser told The Chattanoogan that the boy “was tortured by three of his teammates.” He was reportedly sodomized by a wooden pool cue and suffered from a ruptured colon and bladder. The head coach, Andrew “Tank” Montgomery, took the boy to a nearby hospital the night of the attack, but he was quickly treated and released.
“He was not given a proper exam and collapsed the following day,” the family member said. “Once he collapsed, he was taken by ambulance to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville. He had to undergo emergency surgery.”
The freshman spent eight days in the hospital, and now has to wear a catheter and colostomy bag. Physical recovery is supposed to take 2-3 months, but according to his family, the injuries go deeper than that. “[H]e is having nightmares. He has stated that he thought that he was going to die as a result of the assault.”
Additionally, the Times Free Press reported that there have been other allegations of abuse on the team:
The aunt also said other teammates were abused on the trip to Gatlinburg, just not to the same level as the student who was hospitalized and required surgery. Two mothers of other players on the team previously told the Times Free Press their sons were punched, kicked, thrown to the ground and hit with pool cues but returned home without injuries.
Investigators have been told by the victim that three other boys were abused and the “beatings” were something done “on a regular basis in the locker room,” according to the aunt.
She said the victim described the beatings to investigators as a “ritual for freshmen” and not an isolated incident.
While no other criminal behavior has been reported, police in Hamilton County are currently investigating whether an “ongoing pattern of assaults” has occurred on the team.
The school and county have been subjected to criticism for the way they have handled this incident from the beginning. Though the alleged attackers — one senior and two sophomores — were immediately kicked off the team, it took days for them to be suspended from school. The team also stayed in Gatlinburg and played in the tournament after the attack, and then participated in another tournament days later. The superintendent didn’t hold an emergency meeting or speak publicly about the incident until Wednesday, over two weeks after it occurred.
“I’m furious because the board hasn’t been told the details, and what we don’t know is maddening to me,” Hamilton County school board member Rhonda Thurman said. “If this is what it’s come to, then we need to reconsider why we have sports in school.”
The victim’s family has called for the coach, Andrew “Tank” Montgomery, the athletic director and the assistant coaches to be suspended while the investigation is ongoing. They have accused the school of having a “history of hazing,” and asked for it to be addressed. Other reports seem to confirm that the basketball program at Ooltewah has had a toxic culture for some time, one enabled by those in charge.
But when announcing the cancellation of the school season, Smith reinforced his support for Montgomery and his staff.
“This decision is not a reflection upon the coaching staff,” Smith said. “Indeed, law enforcement officials have to date found no evidence any adult acted improperly. Likewise, this decision is not meant to punish the boys on the team who are innocent of any wrongdoing and simply want to play high school sports.”