UPDATE: Supt. Smith cancels Ooltewah basketball season
Upcoming opponents on the Ooltewah schedule have reportedly received messages from parents and community members urging them not to play Ooltewah this season.
UPDATE: Sources tell Channel 3 Eyewitness News that Hamilton County Superintendent Rick Smith has cancelled the Ooltewah High basketball season, effective immediately. An official announcement is expected at Wednesday's School Board meeting. There is no word on the status of the team's coach, Andre "Tank" Montgomery.
Pressure has been building from within the School Board, with District 1 representative Rhonda Thurman calling for the season to be cancelled almost immediately after news of an assault of a freshman player broke in late December. The incident took place in Gatlinburg on December 22 during a basketball tournament. Three older students were arrested on charges of aggravated assault and aggravated rape, and have been suspended from school.
Upcoming opponents on the Ooltewah schedule reportedly received messages from parents and community members urging them not to play Ooltewah this season.
Also, a family member who has spoken to the victim tells Eyewitness News that the student will not return to Ooltewah High School. It is unknown where the student will decide to enroll. The family member adds that the family is requesting that Coach Montgomery be terminated from his position.
PREVIOUS STORY: Channel 3 Eyewitness News has uncovered new information related to the investigation of members of the Ooltewah High School basketball team. An incident was reported to Gatlinburg, Tennessee police on December 22, while the team was participating in the Smoky Mountain Basketball Tournament. A freshman player was hospitalized after reportedly being assaulted with a pool cue by three older players, who have since been charged with aggravated rape and aggravated assault. The freshman was hospitalized for eight days, and is now recovering. Two of the older players are still in custody at the Juvenile Detention Center, while the third was granted bond.
Sources close to the criminal investigation and a close member of the family who has spoken to the victim tell us that four younger players told Gatlinburg Police investigators that “hazing” is an Ooltewah High ritual, involving the basketball program. All four say they were victims of assault, but the player who was hospitalized was apparently treated more harshly because he “spoke up,” according to sources. Family members of three of the younger players have either pressed criminal charges, or are planning to do so.
The primary victim’s family also says that two of the older students were physically involved in the attack, while the third took video of the incident with a cellphone.
The younger students reportedly told investigators that older students tell them they have to be “beaten in,” and it is a “ritual” at Ooltewah High School. The victim says such incidents happen at school as well, in the locker room with the lights turned off. The younger students say they are told by older students that “it must be done.” They say the actions pre-date Coach Andre “Tank” Montgomery, who has been on the coaching staff for three years, including two as head coach. They reportedly told investigators that Montgomery has not personally witnessed the “beat-ins.”
Montgomery spoke out through an attorney on Sunday night, saying he has become the subject of a "witch hunt." Principal Jim Jarvis met with Hamilton County Superintendent Rick Smith late Tuesday afternoon, as Smith gathers information in advance of Wednesday's school board meeting. Ooltewah High athletics director Jesse Nayadley, who has a son on the basketball team, has not spoken publicly about the crime.
Board members are expected to discuss the case, and how to prevent future such incidents after an Executive Session with their attorney at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.