CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – A Tennessee high school basketball coach was transferred Monday to a non-teaching role off campus after three of his players were charged with raping a teammate in an apparent hazing incident.
Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith said he made the decision to transfer Ooltewah High School coach Andre Montgomery "based on some additional facts that I was made aware of." Smith didn't specify the nature of those facts.
"I don't want anybody to think that he's being punished or penalized at this point," Smith said. "He's being transferred at this point. If we find other reasons to address the coach, we will."
Three players are charged with aggravated rape but haven't been named because they're juveniles. The incident allegedly happened Dec. 22 at a Gatlinburg cabin while the team was at a tournament. School officials have called off the remainder of Ooltewah's season.
Smith said his first obligation "is to make sure daily that our 75 schools operate to the best that they can." He said it's "more and more difficult for that to happen at Ooltewah High School."
Smith was speaking at a news conference in which he responded to criticism of how the school district has handled the incident. Smith said he had instructed Montgomery not to be on any Hamilton County campus while the investigation is going on.
Curtis Bowe, a lawyer representing Montgomery, attended the news conference but declined to comment afterward. Bowe had issued a statement last week saying that "the issue affecting our community is not hazing or bullying" and instead "is the unilateral decision of three individuals charged with a sexual offense."
According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, juvenile court documents released Friday in Sevier County say that a 17-year-old used a pool cue in the assault on a freshman teammate while two 16-year-old players pinned him on a bed. The records show that the freshman's injuries required surgery and several days of hospitalization.
Tennessee law allows judges to release juvenile orders if the defendants are facing a severe charge such as aggravated rape and were at least 14.
The Hamilton County district attorney's office and the sheriff's office are investigating whether an "ongoing pattern of assaults" may have been committed "under the guise of hazing."
Also during the press conference, Smith said he should have cancelled Ooltewah's season as soon as he heard about the incident and that he should have spoken more about the situation earlier. Smith announced Wednesday he was calling off the rest of Ooltewah's season. He made the announcement before a board meeting in which district officials didn't field questions.
Smith said the district is studying its anti-bullying and anti-hazing policies. He said he hasn't spoken to the mother of the freshman who was hospitalized, though he tried contacting the family as soon as he heard about the incident. Smith said he still would like to speak to her.
"She doesn't want to talk to people about this right now, so I'm going to respect that," Smith said.
Smith also was asked whether he believed his job was in jeopardy.
"That's not a primary concern of mine, frankly," Smith said. "Resignation has never crossed my mind. I have not had board members talk to me about that. I feel very much supported by the school board. Yeah, there are things that we need to improve. There are things I need to improve. There are things I think this community needs to think about as far as improving is concerned. I accept that."