IT HAPPENS MORE THAN YOU THINK
November 2, 2013INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
During my freshman year of high school, a guest speaker came in to talk about sexual harassment and I thought, That will never happen to me. At first I thought my assistant softball coach, who was also a teacher at my school, was just a friendly guy. Tw ice a week, I helped out as his student aide, grading papers in his office while he taught class. Before long, he started leaving his class to hang out with me. He bought food for his office and told me it was for me and to help myself. He'd even show up at my basketball games -- some of them were as much as two hours away -- and take rolls and rolls of pictures of me on the court.
By the middle of my sophomore year, rumors were flying that the two of us had more than just a coach-athlete or teacher-student relationship, which actually surprised me. I was completely focused on sports and my grades, I'd never had a boyfriend and the idea that my coach might think of me that way was just gross. I mean, he was about 45 and had a wife and two kids, and I was only 15!
But the more I ignored the rumors, the more Coach tried to be around me. He wouldn't tape my ankles for practice unless we did it alone in his office, and he would barely leave my side at softball practice. He always asked if I wanted to get something to eat afterward, and he hugged me a lot. He also started getting personal -- asking me questions about my parents and telling me that they needed to let me live a little.
Pretty soon, he was acting like a jealous boyfriend. If I told him I was going out with friends, he'd ask, "With whom? Where? For how long?" Once, when I sprained my knee, he volunteered to take me to physical therapy. When I asked my friend to come with us, he grabbed my arm, jerked me aside and said, "What are you doing? This is a chance for us to be alone!" He said, "Either go with me or go with her!" His behavior made me uncomfortable, but I thought I could handle it, so I didn't tell anyone.
The summer before my junior year, things became even more awkward. My coach was a good photographer, and my mom asked him to take photos of me because I wanted to pursue modeling. During the shoot, he said, "If you unzipped your shirt, you'd be a little sexier." A couple of weeks later, he called and asked if I wanted to go to the movies with him. That, on top of all those other incidents, really scared me. I told him I couldn't go to a movie with him, just as my mom walked in. She asked who I was t alking to, and I guess I felt guilty -- like it was my fault he was doing this -- so I said, "No one." But she could see I was upset and continued to probe. Finally, I broke down and told her everything -- how Coach kept trying to be alone with me, abou t the rumors at school and how uncomfortable I felt around him. It was the first time I'd told anyone how upset I was by the whole thing, and we both just sat there and cried.
Then, my mom found out about SESAME, an organization that deals with sexual harassment in schools. She called them and they told us what we could do. We got a lawyer and, following a private investigation, 30 people testified against him. I found out h e had done this to a lot of people -- he had even fondled some of my friends' breasts. Since then, he was forced to resign. Our case is before the courts right now, so we are waiting to see what will happen.
Although I think the whole experience has made me stronger emotionally, coming forward was really hard. Even though many people reported similar incidents, a lot of students who still respected Coach thought I was making everything up. There wasn't a day that I didn't come home crying. I even quit the softball team. But I knew we needed to get him out of there. I looked up to this man as an authority figure, and what he did was wrong. The experience has really opened my eyes to the fact that I can't trust people as much as I thought I could.