Three people used the public comment portion of Tuesday’s Garden City Community College’s Board of Trustees meeting to cite concerns about alleged sexual harassment by former GCCC cheerleading coach Brice Knapp, who abruptly resigned on March 29, just days prior to the team’s scheduled appearance in a national event.
Toni Douglass, the wife of former Broncbuster Athletic Association president Mark Douglass; Aaron Kucharik, a GCCC Endowment Association member; and Eleanor Everett, the mother of a former GCCC cheerleader, all said they had seen letters written by former GCCC cheerleaders citing concerns they had with Knapp.
Toni Douglass spoke first, carrying a binder of what she said contained “seven letters and statements from young women” who attended or currently attend GCCC.
“These young women all have one thing in common,” Toni Douglass told the board as she struggled to get through her statement due to tears. “They were sexually harassed on this campus by one man in a position of authority and power pressed over them. He made horrible, sexual remarks to them about their bodies, their boyfriends and about being a woman in general.”
None of the three people mentioned Knapp by name due to Trustee bylaws banning discussion of GCCC personnel in the public comment portion of the meeting, but all three confirmed to The Telegram they were referencing Knapp, who coached at GCCC from April 2014 to March 29.
Knapp did not return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday, and he has not returned phone and text messages seeking comment since March 29.
Toni Douglass also used some of her time to pass out to the board a letter she had received from a parent of a former cheerleader.
Toni Douglass’ statement eclipsed the five minutes the board allows for individual public comments, and board chairman Steve Martinez cut her off before she could finish her comments.
After the meeting, when asked if he had previously received letters regarding allegations against Knapp, Martinez said he would not comment, citing it was a “personnel matter.”
However, GCCC attorney Randy Grisell, who was present at the board meeting, addressed the question.
“The board has received a letter (regarding allegations against Knapp),” Grisell said after Tuesday’s meeting. “(GCCC Trustees) certainly did receive a letter. It was in February.”
Also after the meeting, trustees Terri Worf, Blake Wasinger and Jeff Crist each said they had no comment or reaction to what was said during Tuesday’s meeting. Trustee Merilyn Douglass, who is Toni Douglass’ sister-in-law, was absent Tuesday, but had previously told The Telegram she had no comment and referred all questions to GCCC Marketing and Public Relations Director Kristi Tempel.
Martinez did address the comments during the meeting, saying, “I want to thank you all for sharing your comment in front of the board, and we appreciate that,” he said at the conclusion of the public comment section. “It took a lot of courage to do that.”
Prior to adjournment of the meeting, Trustee Leonard Hitz also addressed the comments.
“I’d just like to thank the people who were willing to get up and talk,” Hitz said. “That’s not an easy thing to do, and I just want you to know what you are talking about, this is not a superficial problem. This is a problem that this board sooner or later will have to address in one manner or another.”
Hitz also spoke with The Telegram after the meeting.
“They were just lodging a complaint of things they’ve been advised of by young people who had complaints,” Hitz said of the public comments. “They were seeing things, and they were just bringing them to the attention of the board. That was their purpose.”
Hitz would not commit to whether he felt the board should pursue the matter any further, or if the college should initiate an investigation.
“I think it’s an individual decision of every board member whether they think it should be pursued or whether it not be pursued,” he said. “I think each board member needs to do some real soul searching for where they think it needs to go, if it goes anywhere.”
The college has not commented on Knapp’s resignation, and several phone calls and messages to Athletic Director John Green, who also attended Tuesday’s meeting, have gone unreturned.
GCCC President Herb Swender had previously said the college would not comment on personnel.
“… we’re not going to give reasons (for Knapps’ resignation). Those are confidential,” he told The Telegram on April 2. “You’re trying to get into the depths of personnel, and I’m not going to get in the fray. It’s not relevant right now.”
He declined to comment Tuesday when asked about the comments made at the board meeting.
In those comments, Kucharik and Everett each discussed letters they had read that outlined allegations against Knapp.
Kucharik said he received an envelope on March 19 at his office that contained two letters and a photograph taken in 2015 of five then-cheerleaders “mooning.”
According to Kucharik — who said he was speaking as a community member and not on behalf of the Endowment Association — the photo was taken by Knapp. Kucharik did not say how he knew that information.
The Telegram previously obtained a copy of the photograph — which shows five cheerleaders showing their bare buttocks pressed against a window wall — and a letter discussing the photograph. The letter claims that on March 8, 2015, in Wichita, where the cheer team was staying on their way to the Region VI competition at Allen County, Knapp invited a couple of the cheerleaders to his hotel room and encouraged five cheerleaders to press their bare buttocks to a window wall.
The letter claims Knapp was outside and took a photo of the five cheerleaders with their bare buttocks pressed against the windows and then text messaged the photo to the cheerleaders. The letter claims the incident was recounted in a complaint to the GCCC Human Resources Office in 2015, and that an investigation did occur at the time.
The Telegram submitted a Freedom of Information Act request seeking copies of any written complaints regarding Knapp or the cheer program that were sent to GCCC. The college denied the request on Friday, citing “confidential personnel matters."
Everett, the mother of Liz Everett, a former GCCC cheerleader who was on the squad as recently as February, was the last to speak of the three.
“As a mother of one of these athletes that was harassed by this coach, I am pissed off,” Eleanor Everett told the board to open her statement, which lasted just more than a minute.
Then, Eleanor Everrett attempted to give her remaining three minutes to Toni Douglass to speak, but was told by Martinez that she could not do so because Toni Douglass had already spoken. Toni Douglass then handed Eleanor Everrett her prepared comments to finish reading to the board.
“I hope this board can consider the depth of this matter. The pain and humiliation of the girls, and the humiliation I as a mother have seen my child go through,” Everett said. “And I know some of you do have daughters and granddaughters. I know you would not want that for your children either.
“I want you to look how this happened, who in the chain of command, and who had prior knowledge of this problem, and how long and why did it continue.”
After public comments closed and the meeting was nearing its end, former GCCC cheerleader and current student Yulissa Hernandez approached the podium and asked the board to allow her comment.
Martinez declined, stating, “You had to sign in before the meeting started for public comment.”
Toni Douglass told Martinez that Hernandez was late to the meeting because she had been in class, and did not have a chance to sign up.
Donna Gerstner, with LiveWell Finney County, who had signed up for public comment on a separate matter but declined to speak earlier because her colleague spoke on her behalf, offered to allow her five minutes to be used by Hernandez, but Martinez declined again.
“Sorry. It doesn’t work that way,” Martinez said.
“I know,” Gerstner said from the audience, where she was sitting, “but it’s sad that you can’t allow the students to talk … You should make an exception to the students here.”
Martinez responded by telling Gerstner and the audience, “Everybody in here is probably a part of some board or some part of an organization that understands that there’s rules and regulations that need to be followed, and we have to do that here also.”
The meeting was then adjourned, but Hernandez stepped in front of the board and began to read her statement to the inattentive members.
“I’m going to keep this short because I was aware of this meeting last minute … but I have been heavily affected by this coach,” Hernandez said to the trustees, some of whom were focused on packing their materials to leave, walking around the table to unplug their laptops and turning their back to Hernandez. “I would be standing here all night talking about my terrible experience, if I had the chance. I was lied to, not listened to, inappropriate and racial comments have been said to me, no response back to my texts, used and unappreciated.
"This coach should have been stopped a long time ago, and I’m ashamed every time someone asks me where I cheered. I never want to say Garden City Community College. Shame on those who did nothing about this situation. I wish I was proud to be a Broncbuster.”
UPDATE: Attorney Randy Grisell's name was incorrectly spelled in an earlier edition of this story. The post was updated with the correct spelling.
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