Teacher trial

Randy Burke (right) of Hamler confers with one of his attorneys Monday afternoon. Burke, a former teacher and coach at Napoleon High School, faces several counts of gross sexual imposition and sexual imposition concerning female athletes.

The trial of a long-time former Napoleon High School coach and teacher charged with sexual imposition began Monday.

Jury selection in the trial of Randy Burke, 56, of Hamler, was completed just after 3 p.m. Monday. The jury of 14 consists of 10 women and four men. Two of the 14 are alternates.

Three witnesses, two former athletics directors at Napoleon High School and the current one, were called to testify Monday.

Brad Musgrave, a former athletics director at Napoleon High School for 11 years and now serving in that capacity at Wadsworth High School, testified that in 2009 he discussed with Burke, both in a formal and an informal setting, complaints he received from female cross country athletes.

Musgrave issued a summary report following the formal meeting with Burke, and in the report he stated he feared “the situation may be public in the media and involve children’s services, lawyers and the police.”

“I was just trying to guide Randy and let him know what I felt could be worst-case scenario if he didn’t adhere to the advice we were providing him,” Musgrave said. “Which was to stop touching girls on the shoulder, on their arm or what have you.”

Under cross examination, Musgrave acknowledged he is a mandatory reporter, meaning if he suspects inappropriate behavior toward an athlete he is required to report. He admitted he did not report the discussion with Burke to the authorities.

Musgrave also testified that Burke’s contract as cross country coach was renewed after the incident.

Former Napoleon High School athletics director from 2014-18 Josh Meyer testified concerns by female athletes on the cross country team were brought to him in 2017. He also said a parent of a female athlete on the team wrote him a five-page letter outlining 12 major points of concern about Burke.

Meyer said he conducted an informal investigation into the matter, including interviewing five or six female athletes and the parent.

Meyer said he discussed the investigation with then-Napoleon Area City Schools Superintendent Dr. Stephen Fogo. It was Meyer’s recommendation to the Napoleon Area City Schools Board of Education to not renew Burke’s cross country coaching contract for the next season.

Meyer said the board initially agreed not to renew the contract, but when a group of parents also with students on the team attended a school board meeting and asked the board to reconsider that decision, which it did in executive session.

Burke’s contract was renewed and Meyer was directed to implement a plan of improvement for Burke, which included not using so-called pet names of a sexual nature for female athletes.

Under cross examination, Meyer testified that in the five-page letter written by the parent outlining several concerns, inappropriate behavior was one of the last items mentioned.

Meyer also testified he is a mandatory reporter and he also did not report the matter to authorities. Meyer also testified he did not talk to any parents who were in the group supporting Burke at the time as part of his investigation.

Meyer also testified that he could have perhaps conducted a more thorough investigation.

The state also called current Napoleon High School Athletics Director Andy Ham, who was hired last August. Ham said he met at that time with all of the fall coaches, including Burke. Ham said Burke mentioned the 2017 incident to him at that time.

Ham said in September he was approached by four or five female cross country athletes who expressed some concerns about Burke. He asked them to send him those in an email, which they did.

Ham said he then spoke to junior/senior high school principal Ryan Wilde.

“I explained there were some significant concerns I had for these young ladies concerning coach Burke, that I thought were beyond coaching, the way they were feeling uncomfortable at practices and generally not wanting to be on the team anymore,” Ham said.

He added he showed Wilde the emails and then Wendy Nashu, the school’s Title IX coordinator, was contacted. Title IX is a set of rules to ensure there is not discrimination between student athletes based on gender.

Ham also testified a report was then filed with children’s services.

Burke was then put on administrative leave from teaching and coaching at the school during the investigation, then later suspended when the indictments came.

Under cross examination, Ham said the concerns raised by the female athletes included hugging at meets and practice and inappropriate comments. Ham said he had not had a chance to attend any of the cross country meets so he did not see the behavior for himself.

He also testified that he did not talk to any parents who were not associated with the complaints against Burke.

During the opening statements, Henry County Prosecutor Gwen Howe-Gebers told the jury they would hear Burke had his behavior toward female athletes discussed with him three different times by three different athletics directors, that it included inappropriate touching and comments, and that he was urged to change.

She said the touching would include the thighs and buttocks of female athletes. She added the girls, who were mostly freshmen and sophomores, did not initially say anything because Burke was a coach and respected in the community.

“Also, nothing was done previously,” Howe-Gebers said.

Other incidences, she said, include Burke reaching up a female athlete’s shorts and pulling them down far enough to reveal her underwear, as well as another in which he rubbed a female athlete’s stomach while she was lifting weights.

She said Henry County Common Pleas Court Judge John Collier will remind the jury the female athletes were not required to resist the touching for it to still be a crime.

Howe-Gebers said testimony will show this behavior was only applied to the female athletes, not to the male ones.

Defense attorney Scott Coons told the jury they would hear testimony showing the charges are a result of a disgruntled parent trying to have Burke removed as coach. He said testimony will show there was a lot of “drama” on the girls team in 2016, which caused the girls team to become unfocused.

Coons said that is the incident that led to Burke initially not being rehired in 2017, then that decision being reconsidered. He said the parent who wanted to get rid of Burke in 2017 is responsible for the most recent allegations.

“That’s how we got to 2018,” Coons said.

He said the allegations have taken true events and twisted them. For example, he said Burke did not rub a female athlete’s stomach during a workout, but instead was showing her proper form on the bench press by showing if she arched her back high enough to touch his hand it was wrong.

Coons said testimony by a member of the team will show she was approached by some other members encouraging her to “get on their side,” but she refused.

Coons said Burke admits he hugs his athletes, both boys and girls, but that it is not inappropriate.

“There will be no testimony any of this happened in private,” Coons said. He added the alleged events took place at public meets or practices where others were around and many did not object.

“It’s no coincidence nothing happened on the track team (which Burke also helped coached) or in the classroom (where Burke was a physical education teacher),” Coons said.

“It’s not a crime to hug someone,” Coons said.

Both sides said the prosecution will have to prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt, and that the state must also prove Burke did what he is accused of for his own sexual gratification.

Testimony is set to resume this morning and Henry County Common Pleas Court Judge John Collier told the jury the trial could last the rest of the week.

Email comments to briank@northwestsignal.net

I started at the Northwest Signal in 1994 and became editor in 2004. I graduated from Bowling Green State University in 1994.

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