When You Are Ready To Move Forward
There is some big news in my hometown. It seems a longtime basketball coach and teacher was molesting students. One victim, after carrying this burden for almost 30 years finally spoke up. The predator, Ronnie White, was sentenced to 7 years in prison and served 3 months. Attorney and Christian author, Dee Wampler, defended White stating, “My client has an outstanding record as a coach and teacher for many years with the Springfield school system.”
But Wampler is wrong. As is now well known, at least a dozen people were aware of accusations against White spanning decades. I’ll weigh in here. I was a student at Parkview High School from 1988-1992. White was my driver’s ed teacher. I remember that it was common knowledge that White had an eye for his female student. I can remember seeing him place his hand on girl’s knees as they drove the driver’s ed car. The principals that supervised White can cite ignorance, but most of us knew what he was.
A question often comes up, “Why didn’t they say anything?” That is a tough question. One for which I cannot give a definitive answer. Every victim is different and every student is different. However I will attempt to shed some light on the subject. I was a victim of physical and verbal abuse during my time at Jarrett Junior High (a “feeder school” to Parkview). My story is not nearly as sensational as others, and likewise, I did endure nearly what others have. However, my experience provides a glimpse of what victims go through.
In my memoir, Baggage Claim, I write:
“On one occasion, I was tied into an equipment bag and kicked repeatedly. Another time, I had jock straps shoved into my face. I was also thrown in the garbage dumpster beside the school more than a few times. All under the watchful eye of a sadistic coach, who seemed bent on turning my life into a living hell.
I had enough problems with my fellow students bullying me, but bullying wasn’t reserved to kids. At first, the idea that a teacher was bullying me was incomprehensible to me. I would hear from other students about things he said about me. However, this proved to be far worse than the usual taunting of coaches and gym teachers. On more than one occasion, this man would trip me or push me as I walked into the locker room. He also began to make crude comments about me when I had to take a shower after gym class. I was terrified of what might happen if he caught me alone.”
I was the proverbial 90-pound weakling in school, due to a rare condition known as Kallman Syndrome. I will leave off every time a teacher or coach made fun of me because I was not as fast or as strong as the other students. I think that behavior is totally inappropriate from a professional educator, but I will not call it abuse. What I will call abuse is my teacher, Michael Hunter, being entertained by watching students attack me, tie me into an equipment bag, and kick me. I actually got in trouble for that one when it was all over. I was told to toughen up. It was apparently my fault that I could not stand up to four other students at once. I will call it abuse when this same teacher observed a couple of other students throwing me into the trash dumpster. I will call it abuse when this teacher shoved me, tripped me. And when he began making comments about my anatomy in the shower, I started going to extremes (like faking sick or getting detention) to avoid him.
But I never said anything.
At first, I did not say anything because Mr. Hunter was a member of the same church as my family and I. I assumed at the time that he was friends with my father. I was generally well behaved, so I also assumed that any problems at school with teachers were my problems.
I spent my two years at Jarrett afraid. I was a constant target for bullies, but I carried that burden. In my mind, there was no solution that would not put me up against an even scarier problem.
I did have one occasion where I tried to say something. It was in eighth grade. I was sitting outside after lunch. My history teacher was supervising the students who spent this time milling about, talking, or playing basketball. He was talking with a couple of students and the three of them were making fun of some other students. Something about it really got to me. In my idealized worldview, teachers were supposed to be the defenders. This time, I said something. I told one of the kids they were making fun of. I was hoping he would do what I never could. And he did. Once we got back to class, he went right up to our teacher and confronted him. I was impressed. Then I was grabbed by the back of my collar and taken to the hall, where this teacher screamed at me to say I made it up. I complied immediately. Then I was taken to the principal’s office where the principal this teacher told me that I could get in a lot of trouble for lying about teachers. Then I was told that I “obviously had problems” and was sent to the counselor. I do not remember the counselor’s name, but as I look back, I think she was a kind person. She seemed bewildered and kept asking me what was wrong. I was crying, but I was not going to say anything. The message was received.
In High School, I was far too cynical to ever think that the administration or the teachers would be on my side of anything. I never had to endure the abuse that I put up with in seventh grade, but I did put with regular taunts from coaches. At 17, I was 5’3" and weighed 98lbs. I was the opposite of everything they valued. By then, I had just learned to take it.
Along comes this story about Coach White. When it first broke, I noticed something strange. Some of my friends said, “That’s not surprising.” Others were shocked. As an adult, I realize that some of us had learned that adults were dangerous. If you are not in that group, you probably will not understand. When you are in that group, you see a lot more of the red flags than other people do. You recognize right away when you run into someone who is stepping over the line. Of course, that is the same group of students who will keep quiet. The predators know this.
Why didn’t they say anything? Well, for starters, they did. There were many allegations. The teachers that I dealt with have also had allegations. Those allegations fell on deaf ears. That only has to happen so many times before people learn just not to say anything at all.
As I write this, I know that many people will have completely different memories of my teachers than I do. A quick look at one Facebook page, and I see that the guy who terrorized my 7th grade year posts a lot about faith and character on his page. Several of my friends like those posts. I am sure they would be hard pressed to think any different of him. That is not why I am writing this. I am writing this because I there is something that I want everyone in a position to hear an accusation to know: It will always come as a surprise to you. Listen anyway, and trust someone else (like the police) to do the actual investigating.
No one says anything because no one is listening. Start listening, and you can change things for the better.
Aaron Davis is an author, speaker, and life coach. He currently lives in Springfield, MO with his wife and their two sons. He also serves as a hospice chaplain.