Stolen Innocence

Last week, news broke that an athletic trainer at Custer County High School abused at least a hundred boys over the twenty years he was at the school. Some estimates are two hundred victims.

This man has admitted that he concocted an elaborate training program, targeting the younger and smaller boys in the school. He groomed them by saying he would help them boost their testosterone. He would help them build muscle.

But all he was doing was sexually molesting these boys. He started with naked massages and invasive prostrate checks. He insisted that these boys remove all clothing, regardless of what their injury was. He would stroke them, bring them to ejaculation. He would perform oral sex on them. And I believe he engaged in sodomy. Sometimes at school. Sometimes in his home. He provided porn and alcohol to the boys.

I’m stunned.

I am truly sick to my stomach. I grew up in Miles City. This was my high school. With the number of boys he molested, I’m sure some of my friends were victimized by this man. I do not remember him at all. In all my years participating in sports, I never had to see the trainer. None of my guy friends ever said anything to me about ‘funny business’ in the locker room. Neither did my older brother. I didn’t hear any rumors or whispers when I was a student there. As they say, ignorance is bliss.

But today, I’m angry. I’m angry that so many boys had to go through this. Teachers are supposed to shape kids and protect them. Not prey on them.

I’m angry because this man had no medical background whatsoever. And he was allowed to do hernia checks. He was allowed to do the boys physicals. He was allowed to keep the training room in the boys locker room. That alone should have been a huge red flag.

I’m angry because this taints part of my childhood. I wasn’t directly affected by this man. But I’m sure some of my friends were. I’m sure most of the population of Miles City has a connection to at least one of this man’s victims.

Where was the oversight in this program? Coaches had to know that this man was seeing kids after practice. They had to hear about the training program. Didn’t anyone think to check it out?

And out of that many boys, there had to be at least one who told someone what this man was doing. For those boys who did seek help, why were they ignored?

I have three boys, and from the time they could understand what ‘private parts’ meant, I told them that no one was allowed to touch them, for any reason. I told them to come to me if anyone ever tried to touch them, even if it was a family member or a teacher, etc. I told them this a lot. I told them this to protect them.

So many times, parents worry about their girls. And rightfully so. But I worried about my boys. Pedophiles, like this trainer, are everywhere. I hated to ruin my kids’ innocence too early in life, but I felt that was better than having their lives ruined by molestation.

As a parent, I’m curious why these boys were allowed to go to this man’s home alone. I would question any trainer who kept a treatment room at home and encouraged boys to come over outside of school hours. I know sometimes my kids have thought I was too protective. But when stories like this come out, I know I have done the right thing for my boys.

This past year, Garris went out of town with some older boys, with his dad’s blessing. Garris was a freshman, in a car with upper classmen, driving thirty miles to another town on a two lane highway. I hit the roof. I insisted that Garris had to get my permission as well before he took any more road trips. Same thing for riding with new drivers.

Garris wanted to go to a friend’s house after a rodeo last year. The rodeo was in Boulder and the friend lives in Helena. I told Garris I had to talk to this boy’s mom first. So, at the next rodeo, she and I talked. I asked her who would be driving if Garris went home with them. At first, she looked at me, then she said either she or her husband would be driving. Then she put her hand up for a high five. She said I was the first mom who had ever checked with her. Garris and his friend were both standing there. They both heard this other mom say exactly what I had said: brand new drivers aren’t ready for passengers. Especially when those drivers are 15 year old boys.

The point I’m trying to make is that sometimes I feel like I’m square. I feel like I’m the party pooper. I have to know who my kids are out with, where they’re going, and what time they’re going to be home. And in today’s world, with cell phones, it’s easy to keep track of your kids. I don’t intrude into their social lives, as long as they are with who they’re supposed to be, where they’re supposed to be, and they come home on time.

I just have to wonder at how much of a dis-connect was happening during this trainer’s time at the high school. How could so many boys be abused without someone noticing?

The only good thing about this is that more protective policies will surely be implemented by schools. No more ‘good ‘ole boy’ type hiring. No more unqualified or un-vetted people in the schools. At least I hope so.

If any of my high school friends happen to read this, just know my heart aches for you. This man stripped away your dignity and your faith. And I’m sorry that he wasn’t stopped.

 

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