By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle
Two recent arrests of former Hennessey High School coaches accused of inappropriate relationships with students have some parents at Deer Creek-Lamont High School questioning whether their district exercised due diligence in hiring its newest girls basketball coach.
When Chad Hutchison was announced as the hire for the girls basketball coaching job at DCLA, questions started to arise about his tenure at a previous school district and his termination in 2009 for moral turpitude.
Those questions follow on the heels of recent news regarding former Hennessey High School girls basketball coach Ben Forsythe’s arrest on charges relating to an alleged relationship he had with a student while coaching at Hennessey. The charges came as Forsythe was employed by Texhoma Public Schools after resigning his position at Hennessey. Forsythe was hired by Texhoma after receiving a positive recommendation from Hennessey Superintendent Joe McCulley, who said Forsythe had resigned “for unknown reasons.” And just this past spring, former Hennessey High School baseball coach Mike Conway was charged with second-degree rape, rape by instrumentation and lewd molestation for his alleged relationship with a student. He is awaiting trial.
In Hutchison’s case, questions arose in the Thomas-Fay-Custer school district with allegations he was having an inappropriate romantic relationship with a student he was coaching on the high school cross country team in 2009. Law enforcement investigated the allegations, and although the district attorney declined to pursue charges, the school district fired Hutchison for moral turpitude.
Several parents have questioned DCLA’s hiring of Hutchison over the summer despite his termination on the grounds of moral turpitude.
The Thomas-Fay-Custer district’s grounds for termination were upheld in a May 27, 2010, federal court ruling — on a lawsuit filed by Hutchison for wrongful termination — wherein U.S. District Judge David Russell cited “overwhelming evidence Hutchison had an inappropriate romantic relationship with a student …” His ruling cited precedent that “a teacher having a romantic relationship with a student, even if it is not a sexual relationship, is contrary to good morals, and amounts to or involves moral turpitude.”
Deer Creek-Lamont patrons Travis Kirby and his wife, Linda Kirmer, were among those concerned about Hutchison’s problems at Thomas-Fay-Custer and decided to do a little digging. What they found in looking through the court documents in Hutchison’s case alarmed them, and they took their concerns to the DCLA school board.
Allegations at Thomas
Suspicions had been rising in the Thomas community about a potentially inappropriate relationship between Hutchison and one of his athletes during the 2009 school year.
Thomas-Fay-Custer Superintendent Rob Royalty had been approached by several parents concerned Hutchison allegedly was meeting clandestinely with one of his players, an 18-year-old girl, on a rural stretch of road near Thomas, according to an application for cell phone records submitted by Custer County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Robert E. Short.
Royalty, according to the application, personally observed Hutchison’s and the girl’s vehicles at the location. A letter also had been received stating Hutchison’s vehicle was seen on several occasions at the girl’s house, where she lived by herself.
Further, according to the application, local landowner Rusty Hamar reported seeing occupants of the two vehicles meeting, “usually on a Wednesday or Sunday night and always after dark,” just north of his property. Hamar indicated the vehicles would park rear-wheel to rear-wheel in opposite directions.
According to his statement in the application, Short conducted surveillance on three nights, May 11-13, 2009, along with Sheriff Bruce Peoples. On May 13, Short said he noticed the vehicles belonging to Hutchison and the student parked in the manner Hamar had described. According to his statement, as Short pulled onto the road, Hutchison drove off. Short stopped the girl’s vehicle and Peoples remained with her while Short attempted to stop Hutchison, who had driven away. After turning on his blue and red lights “to make an investigative stop,” Short pursued Hutchison for 6.5 miles, sometimes “at a high rate of speed,” before Hutchison pulled over.
Short reported Hutchison later told him he did not pull over because he was afraid someone was following him.
After having both the girl and Hutchison follow him to the sheriff’s office, Short stated he interviewed both parties. The girl denied there was any improper contact and said she turned to Hutchison as a “father figure” since her parents had split up. She admitted to meeting several times with Hutchison at the rural location and said they also would call and text each other frequently. The girl, according to Short’s statement, said she and Hutchison hugged on several occasions. Hutchison confirmed the girl frequently would get into his vehicle at these meetings and they had hugged and kissed on several occasions, according to Short’s statement.
Dennis Smith, district attorney for Oklahoma District 2, which includes Custer County, told the Enid News & Eagle a report regarding the allegations involving Hutchison was reviewed by his office, and it was felt the report did not contain sufficient evidence to warrant criminal charges.
District’s action goes to court
After investigating the allegations and consulting with the district’s legal counsel, Thomas-Fay-Custer’s school board made the decision to terminate Hutchison on the basis of moral turpitude.
“We went by the book,” Royalty said.
Richard O’Carroll, Hutchison’s Tulsa-based attorney, said the school district did not handle the incident well.
“They (the school board) could have handled this simply by having a meeting with the parties involved,” O’Carroll said.
But Royalty said the board “did the legal, moral and right thing.”
“We showed that the good-old-boy system was gone,” he said.
O’Carroll said Hutchison was the victim of a witch hunt conducted by a “small group” of parents who were unhappy with Hutchison’s coaching methods and wanted him fired.
O’Carroll admits text messages between Hutchison and the girl may have been inappropriate, but he said they amount to no more than how a coach would speak in such terms to one of his male athletes. Hutchison, in testimony given in the course of his lawsuit against the district, admits the messages were crude, stating, “I was being a coach, being crude with her … because she is one of those players that respond whenever you take that verbal two-by-four and you swing and hit them in the rear-end …”
During testimony, several messages were read into the court record. One particular text exchange from May 4, 2009, involved a series of texts between Hutchison and the girl while both were on a bus heading to a track meet. The texts show Hutchison to be irritated with the girl for sitting with a group of boys on the bus:
Hutchison: Bet you tried real hard.
Girl: Wznt gonna make them move. Would be stupid Plus I hve ppl bitchin at me bak here cz I sat up there last time.
Hutchison: Keep telling yourself anything that makes you happy. Enjoy your company today. F___ off.
I guess THOSE ppl giving you a hard time will be there 4 you later cuz I WON’T. Snuggle up to them in the tent too, I QUIT.
Girl: This is the most stupid thing you are trying to argue w me about. Y would u say stuff like this wen u know it affects my run? And during regionals … really?
Hutchison: So what guy do you sit across from? Better close your legs.
Girl: Well, I don’t think he will be looking cz HE is DESTINY.
Hutchison: Best of luck! Don’t need me for anything, so run fast and close your legs. Really I have no use for your bull____.
Hutchison: Think how stupid it is when your on your own! Spread real wide then. Hope your fitting in. This affects your running! Its not like you have prom tonight.
Girl: Ur sick. I already am on my own.
Hutchison: How. Yeah cuz I have not ever been there with you and I just ruin you! I will just take my sick ass and f off. Have a great day, life! For putting up with your constant bull crap I am sick and stupid and done! Enjoy life on your own for real now! Choose that sh__.
Besides the text messages, testimony from other students or former students revealed Hutchison’s vehicle was seen at the girl’s residence, where she was living alone, on numerous occasions.
One witness, in her sworn testimony, related an incident when she and a friend went into the school gym to shoot baskets after a football game. In her testimony, she stated, “We had seen Mr. Hutchison walk in the locker room so we just stayed out there and he came out, and right as he came out, we went in there and (the girl) was in there.”
The witness stated the girl was dressed in only a towel.
Further testimony reveals Hutchison had become very involved in the witness’ life, as well, advising her she shouldn’t be dating her boyfriend.
“He would always try to control … everything I did and, like, who I dated and stuff.”
She testified her parents had to step in and tell her not to text him. After she cut off such contact, the witness stated Hutchison didn’t treat her the same afterward.
Judge Russell’s ruling was based upon trial testimony from Hutchison and former students as well as the text messages.
DCLA hires Hutchison
Hutchison, whose coaching credentials include being voted 2004 Enid News & Eagle Northwest Oklahoma Girls Coach of the Year, applied for the position of girls cross country and basketball coach at DCLA this past summer.
DCLA parent Kirby said he learned about Hutchison’s application and became aware of the series of events leading up to the coach’s termination through records that became public when Hutchison filed his lawsuit.
When Kirby sat down July 9 with his wife, he produced a stack of papers and told her, “We’ve got a problem.”
In Kirby’s possession were dozens of pages of court documents. As the couple pored over the documents they became increasingly troubled.
The couple acted to ensure the DCLA board was aware of Hutchison’s more recent past, providing the superintendent the court documentation regarding Hutchison’s termination.
DCLA Superintendent David Zachary, also a coach, acknowledged receiving the documents but insisted the board did its due diligence in hiring Hutchison.
“We must have made over 50 calls,” Zachary said. “All but one of the people we contacted had good things to say about him (Hutchison).”
Among those contacted was Steve Mendell, superintendent at Lomega, where Hutchison coached prior to being at Thomas. Mendell confirmed he was contacted and said there never was anything untoward that occurred with Hutchison and he highly recommended Hutchison.
Royalty also acknowledged being contacted by DCLA board representatives.
“We were contacted by Deer Creek-Lamont, but I can’t recall if it was before or after they hired him,” Royalty said. “We had heard for several weeks they were going to hire him. I did tell them there was no way I could personally recommend him (for the job).”
Several parents of DCLA students also attempted to get the board to reconsider Hutchison’s hiring, but their requests to be put on the docket of the Aug. 2 board meeting were rejected for not indicating on a timely basis they wished to be on the docket.
It all had the appearance of a whitewash to Kirmer.
“He (Hutchison) is personal friends with Zachary and (high school principal) Mike Thompson. It was the good-old-boy network at work,” she said.
Hutchison acknowledged a long-standing relationship with Zachary and Thompson when he told the News & Eagle in a July 1 interview, “I’ve known the coaches (Zachary and Thompson) for a long time and I’m looking forward to working with them.”
Zachary maintains the DCLA board acted appropriately in hiring Hutchison, who continues to coach the girls’ basketball and cross country teams, adding his daughter coaches with Hutchison, and Hutchison’s wife works for the district.
Zachary said he “feels comfortable” with the hire and believes the right decision was made, indicating he was tired of the allegations and people’s inability to put it aside.
“I am a Christian. I have to answer to a higher calling. I take seriously my responsibility in helping and guiding kids and would never do anything to put them in harm,” Zachary said. “If something happens, he (Hutchison) will be gone and I will be right behind him. I made the right decision.”
Royalty said Hutchison’s most recent lawsuit, filed against the Thomas-Fay-Custer school board for allegedly denying him due process, was dismissed Nov. 18.