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Considering Kingfisher, Jeff Myers and Ryan Walters' absence when there's no payoff
When a high school football program appears to have gone off the rails but has enjoyed too much success for its district to rein it in
I may write delicately.
Or maybe I just think I might because among the high school football programs I’ve never covered, not even as an opponent of programs I’ve covered, is Kingfisher.
Yet, what’s been happening there, perhaps for years and years and years, demands your attention.
Not only as a sports matter, but as a matter state superintendent of public instruction Ryan Walters ought to be rushing to fix but is instead a co-defendant in a civil filing brought by the parents of Mason Mecklenburg, who claims to have suffered hazing and abuse while a member of the program.
The state supreme court filing, reported out by The Oklahoman’s Nolan Clay and others on Tuesday, seeks to force Kingfisher head football coach Jeff Myers out of his job for, depending on how you might filter it, encouraging a culture of abuse and hazing, turning a blind eye to it or maybe just being the last to know in a locker room where everybody else knew.
Here’s a bit of Clay’s reporting.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court was asked on Monday to order school officials to fire Kingfisher High School head football coach Jeff Myers to protect students.
Making the unusual request are the parents of a former student who is suing over hazing suffered while he was a Kingfisher football player. A trial in the hazing case is set for December.
“That case does not resolve the threat posed to our youngest child and all the other children enrolled with him at KPS,” Justin and Lyndy Mecklenburg told the Supreme Court in their application. “Those students face an imminent, ongoing threat of harm and abuse each and every day that KPS and state administrations fail to act.”
Here’s a piece of the story on KOKH-25’s web site. If you venture to that story, you can watch what they put on the air, too.
Court documents allege that for almost two decades, the Kingfisher football program has condoned bullying, hazing, violence, and child abuse …
During a phone call with Jim Perdue, a former member of the Kingfisher Board of Education, the victim’s father asserted that, “We’re trying to establish a toxic dangerous culture that has been in existence since he showed up.”
“It'll blow you the f--- away. It is unbelievable, everything that we have found. All the way, starting back in 2005,” he added.
And here’s a piece of a NonDoc story from Aug. 9 — three weeks before Tuesday’s Supreme Court filing but two years after a lawsuit was originally filed by Mecklenburg against Kingfisher Public Schools, Myers and others, that, now in federal court, remains ongoing — that includes a long quote from Mecklenburg detailing some of the abuse he suffered.
Mecklenburg said he encountered a culture that met him with open hostility.
While noting that freshmen on the team often endured regular torment from older players — including whippings with towels cut into strips — Mecklenburg said his abuse continued into his sophomore, junior and senior years. He said it was tolerated, encouraged and perpetuated by the coaches.
“The seniors would come in with their towels, and they basically would just go to town on you,” Mecklenburg said. “I remember one time they opened the curtain to me and it was me and there’s like, two of them — two or three of them — and the rest are just watching, and they’re just whipping me, and I can’t do anything. So I just fall in the corner and I’m just, like, facing the wall. So they don’t, you know, hit my private area or anything. And they’re just going at my back and my butt and stuff. That was a pretty common theme. I wouldn’t say that happened every day, but I would say that happened at least once a week. That happened a lot. That was pretty bad.”
Mecklenburg also claimed he was shot with a paintball gun multiple times on his way to practice one day and when he looked to his coaches for help, they were laughing. He also claimed to have been tasered in the Kingfisher locker room.
NonDoc, in that same Aug. 9 story, included part of the Kingfisher district’s response to the lawsuit.
“The school district defendants assert that plaintiff has failed to establish he has suffered a recognized deprivation. Plaintiff has failed to establish that any conduct by the school district defendants rises to a level sufficient to ‘shock the conscience.’ (…) The school district defendants have not breached any duty owed to plaintiff.”
There is also this, at the bottom of Clay’s story.
One former player testified in June the locker room fights happened probably once or twice a week.
“And ‘The Ring’ was basically a circle of players forming a cage-type of atmosphere around two players put in the middle, and they would either fistfight or they would wrestle,” the witness, Brayden States, said.
He said he was forced to fight Mason Mecklenburg one time by upperclassmen.
“I remember Coach Myers telling us at some point not to film it or anything like that because that could get us in real big trouble.”
One former coach, Micah Nall, admitted in a deposition that all the coaches knew “The Ring” was happening.
Nall acknowledged that coaches heard challenges during practice to fight later in “The Ring” and could have put a stop to it.
Of course, Myers, whose career mark is 184-63 following a zero week season-opening home-field loss to Clinton, who was inducted into the Oklahoma Coaches Hall of Fame two summers ago after reaching the playoffs 17 straight seasons, playing for a state title five times and winning it once, remains in apparent good standing in the job he’s had for almost 20 years.
That’s where we’re at.
And now, maybe, I can be helpful.
Like, take it from a longtime sportswriter, the default on who you should believe in such matters, especially when a district circles its wagons yet nobody appears to deny anything is always the players and never the coaches.
Yes, one family could carry a vendetta. But be real, because there’s no glory in bringing allegations, knowing you could divide a community and make you and your family pariahs.
Who wants that?
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Also, coaches are generally fallible. Like most of us, they work too hard and get paid too little. Among the things they tend not to do is rise above it all. They are granted authority. They are also human.
The vast majority are net positives and some have mastered threading the needle between leaving the door open to players who know they have an ally upon entering and demanding full accountability, too.
That, by the way, is coaching’s greatest trick.
But they’re not special.
Nor are sportswriters, though most try to do good work, too.
The reason we don’t hear about cases like Kingfisher’s here, there and everywhere — though we hear it too much in Oklahoma; hello Ringling — is because it doesn’t happen here, there and everywhere.
Here’s the delicate part.
I don’t know Jeff Myers.
I have, though, covered a team whose staff he was on: Woodward, 1993 and 1994, the latter a state championship season.
He was, and remains, the son-in-law of Milt Bassett, who I think the world of and loved to kibitz with when he was the Boomers’ head coach and I was a young sportswriter in Northwest Oklahoma.
I remember most of that staff.
Bassett, Jim Cummings, Darris Servis, Kenny Lamb, Tom Haynes. And Myers. And the thing I remember about Myers is he screamed at players like nobody else on the staff, like almost no coach I’ve encountered since.
I remember a girls basketball coach at Vici who was out of control, who acted like the game was happening to him, rather than his team; and an Ada girls basketball coach bellowing through a wall, terrorizing his team as far as I could tell, when new on the job in Norman and in the Cougars’ gym for three straight days at a tournament.
I remember John Gavula, an old schooler who I loved as a hilarious and great match teacher at McGuinness, but who was hotheaded and physical with his players as an assistant football coach in ways that would not be tolerated now.
Of the hundreds and hundreds of high school coaches I’ve encountered that I’ve seen rip into players at the same volume and intensity as I witnessed Myers all those years ago, that’s the list.
I’m not saying that means Myers fostered the culture he’s been accused of fostering. I’m just saying it’s interesting and, oh yeah, typically, believe the kids.
Finally, Ryan Walters.
Why is he not making it his job to root this kind of abuse out of scholastic sports in Oklahoma? To not even make a stink about it? To not level threats at the offending districts as he has leveled threats at the Tulsa district? To not amplify the issue as he amplified an edited video of a Union librarian that resulted in days and days of bomb threats?
Isn’t it obvious.
The angry men who tend to allow the behaviors Mecklenburg and his family are accusing Myers of allowing at Kingfisher? They, and older voters afraid of their own shadow who can be talked into anything, are Walters’ base.
But at Kingfisher alone, more abuse allegations have surfaced than trans-gender athletes — zero — have come to ruin girls’ sports.
At Kingfisher alone, more abuse allegations have surfaced in its football program than abuse allegations have surfaced between transgender students and non-transgender students in any bathrooms in any school in the entire state combined.
Walters doesn’t act on matters like the Mecklenburgs have brought to light because there’s no payoff. If he can’t push a culture war pretending to do his job, nor will he step in and do it for real when real things demand he do it.
He’s the worst.