NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The lawyer for former North Kingston high school basketball coach Aaron Thomas told the Globe late Thursday that he has “300 signed consent forms spanning 10+ years,” from teen male athletes and their parents allowing Thomas to perform body-composition tests.
However, the “weight testing agreement” he shared with the Globe on Thursday does not detail how the testing would be performed, and does not disclose that the student-athletes would be asked to be fully nude.
Thomas, 54, is under criminal investigation by the attorney general’s office after former athletes going back decades complained that he had performed “body fat” tests on them while they were naked and alone with him, in either a closet or a small room attached to his office. Some said that he used skin-fold calipers to explore their groin and buttocks, and had them do stretches and “duck walks” while nude.
Since the allegations became public Oct. 30, more former athletes have come forward with accounts dating back to the mid-1990s, with many of them remembering the question that Thomas asked to see if they’d remove their underwear: “Are you shy, or not shy?”
Thomas’ lawyer, Providence criminal defense attorney John E. MacDonald, acknowledged to the Globe that the permission slips do not mention nudity, but said Thomas found it easier to test the boys when they were nude.
“The testing started on the upper body with the shirt off, and go lower with underwear on or off,” MacDonald said. “It was simply quicker to do with underwear not in the way. In any given day, he’s testing three or four students.”
The consent form mentions assessing body fat composition, testing muscle strength and development, and comparisons to other athletes with the same body type. “Involvement in this program will not positively or negatively impact your chances of making any athletic team,” the form said. “The program is designed to help athletes to reach their full potential.”
Thomas was “self-taught” in using skinfold calipers to measure body fat, MacDonald said. The male athletes were tested at least every three months, and their information entered into a three-page Excel spreadsheet that was printed and given to them, he said.
Thomas used the data to create spreadsheets for the male athletes that listed 27 data points measuring their bodies, including neck, chest, wrist, hand, hip, thigh, waist, ankle, calf, waist-hip flexibility, and leg span. There is no abbreviation for or data showing measurements taken in the groin area, or any area that would be covered by underwear, according to a spreadsheet that one former athlete shared with the Globe.
MacDonald said another sheet focused on athletic ability testing (vertical jump, broad jump, bench press) and skin fold testing measurements. He said Thomas measured the adductor muscle of the inner thigh “to track athletic maneuverability and improve performance.”
“The closest to the groin area was the adductor muscle. He was not moving testicles,” MacDonald said. “He was not touching testicles or scrotum area.”
The adductor muscle group is not typically measured as part of a skinfold caliper test.
Jennifer Lima, a new member of the North Kingstown School Committee, learned recently that her son, now 31, had been subjected to Thomas’ “fat tests” while a basketball player at North Kingston High School. She told the Globe that she believes parents had no idea the fat tests were happening — or that they were conducted while students were alone with Thomas and fully nude.
While there are always many school permission forms that parents have to sign when their children play sports, and one for body-fat analysis may not have drawn attention, “I am pretty sure I would have remembered being asked to give permission for him to be naked!” Lima told the Globe.
Thomas started the testing program in the 1990s, when he was an assistant football coach, and transitioned to using an electronic scale with a fat scanner in 2018, MacDonald said.
That’s also the same year that Thomas was ordered by school officials to stop conducting “body fat tests” in private, after a former student complained to the superintendent and another went to the North Kingstown police.
The superintendent, high school principal, and the athletic director told Thomas that any testing of athletes was to be done in the locker room with at least two adults present.
MacDonald said that Thomas continued the body-fat program until he went on leave in February. That’s when more former students came forward to police and the school administration about the naked fat tests, and the School Committee voted unanimously to terminate Thomas and hire its own investigator.
When Thomas cleaned out his office at North Kingstown High School, he took with him 300 or more consent forms going back to 2005, MacDonald said.
“I’m glad he did. He thought he might need them, because he was under investigation,” MacDonald said.
The school committee’s investigation — which included statements given by former students to the North Kingstown police — found enough testimony to “credibly conclude that Mr. Thomas acted inappropriately and without parental consent.” Thomas quietly resigned on June 24; the School Department did not negotiate his resignation.
Thomas was quickly hired as a social studies teacher at Monsignor Clarke School in South Kingston in the fall. He was fired by the Catholic school on Nov. 5, shortly after the allegations came to light.
While the investigation by the attorney general’s office is ongoing, Thomas has not been charged with a crime.
The North Kingstown School Committee voted unanimously on Saturday to continue the external investigation to determine when information about Thomas first came to the attention of the district administration and what action was taken.
Timothy Conlon, a lawyer who is representing some of the former athletes, had requested their school and athletic records, including fat-testing records and evaluations.
“Presumably when the school department responds to my request for records, we will see whether such forms were executed in connection with the individual I represent. and more particularly, by their parents,” Conlon said. “There is nothing about that [consent] form that suggests the parents are on notice about, first, what is going on in terms of the so-called examination, and where that information is going.”