NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — It wasn’t just the celebrated high school basketball coach performing “naked fat tests” of teenage boys.
An ongoing investigation of former coach Aaron Thomas, has lifted the lid off allegations against two other coaches in the North Kingstown School District, which parents and students say fostered a poisonous sports culture that they were helpless to stop.
Current and former students, as well as parents, signed witness statements for an investigation by the US attorney’s office about two coaches who they said were inappropriate with female students in middle and high school. Interim Superintendent Michael Waterman placed both men, as well as an administrator, on leave in May after receiving allegations.
Waterman said in an email to the Globe on Friday that he is taking the matters expressed in the information seriously but will not comment until the school district’s investigation is complete.
The girls and young women described a sports culture in which they were leered at, touched, and singled out for attention for their bodies but where they were told that’s just how the coaches were.
The allegations are laid out in a letter and signed statements that lawyer Timothy Conlon sent Thursday to Assistant US Attorney Kevin L. Hubbard, who is working with Assistant US Attorney Amy R. Romero in the ongoing investigation.
Conlon is representing former athletes who filed a civil rights complaint in January alleging that North Kingstown school officials had ignored Thomas’s conduct.
“It is clear that the problem at NKSD is not simply that Thomas’ conduct with young boys flew under the radar at the High School for decades,” Conlon wrote to Hubbard. “During that same span of 20 years, multiple people are reported to have been aware of conduct on the part of NKSD educators that should have triggered action ... but little formal action was taken.”
There was the Davisville Middle School teacher, also a coach, whose fixation and flirtatious behavior toward certain girls made students so uncomfortable that some of the boys kept a log of his behavior. They started it in January 2021: “This is now the official chat that we will later use as evidence against [the teacher] about pedophilia in case anything does come up in the future and we do turn out to be right.”
For years, the teacher, identified as John Roe 21, was also a DJ at middle school dances, where former students and a parent who was a chaperone recalled him playing the song “Booty Drop,” by rap group 69Boyz, and inviting the girls to twerk. A male student recalled the coach having female, middle-school student-athletes run with their shirts off, wearing only sports bras.
One family complained that the coach was fixated on their daughter and stalking her. Although the school department ultimately removed that teacher from his coaching job in North Kingstown — after the mother threatened to obtain a restraining order — he went on to coach in two other school districts in Rhode Island.
At North Kingstown High School, where Aaron Thomas worked, there here was another coach, identified as John Roe 22, whose attention made some girls so uncomfortable they refused to go to class. One woman, who graduated in 2006, said the coach was inappropriately physical with her, talking about how her body compared with his wife’s.
“While he was supposed to be spotting me, he would press his body into my backside and have his hands on my legs. I could feel his whole body pressed against me, both above the waist and with his groin up against my backside during which he would grind against me,” Jane Doe 5 said in a witness statement. “On other occasions, also touched me multiple times without my consent. He massaged my neck, shoulders and my legs — around my calf and up to and over my inner thigh.”
Another woman, who graduated in 2009, said the coach made plain which girls he found attractive — and which he didn’t.
“While there were some girls who liked the attention he showed his favorites... there many more who found his behavior towards them and others extremely uncomfortable,” Jane Doe 2 said in a statement. “During my time at NKHS, I was among one of the many female students he would do this to, being part of a group of young girls who he openly referred to in front of other students as part of the ‘itty bitty tittie committee.’”
Both women said they dreaded going to the coach’s class but felt helpless. “Although myself and others were uncomfortable with what was going on at the time, we were conditioned to see that [the coach’s] actions were ‘just what he does’ or even simply part of the NKHS experience,” Jane Doe 2 said. The coach “was close with many students and their parents and was seen as a part of the path towards athletic success in the school.”
“The school had such a commitment to the coaches, and since his conduct was such a common thing, nobody questioned his actions,” said Jane Doe 5. “I figured that in order to be successful in his class, and in school generally, you would have to put up with his actions.”
Though John Roe 22′s actions “left me feeling dirty,” Jane Doe 5 wrote, “since everyone loved him, I felt no one would have believed me. I felt helpless and ashamed.”
All of this was going on during the decades that the boys high school basketball coach, Aaron Thomas, was performing “naked fat tests” on male teenage athletes.
Thomas, 54, is under criminal investigation by the attorney general’s office and the North Kingstown police. Multiple current and former male athletes have come forward about how Thomas would get them alone in a closet or his small office and invite them to strip with the query, “Are you shy or not shy?” Then, he would touch their bodies near their groins for a purported “fat test.” One athlete said Thomas was noticeably aroused.
Investigations for the School Committee and Town Council have found that Thomas was able to do this unchecked
In his letter to the US attorney, Conlon said the latest statements from witnesses against the other two other coaches were part of the school district’s culture where some students were resigned to putting up with the behavior, while others documented it, in hopes that what they saw would someday be used as evidence.
The school district’s lawyer Mary Ann Carroll and the school board chairman Gregory Blasbalg did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Read the witness statements below.
Amanda Milkovits can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.