13 INVESTIGATES: The Coaching Culture - Alabamas13.com WVTM-TV Birmingham, AL

13 INVESTIGATES: The Coaching Culture

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"Henry" practices on the basketball court. "Henry" practices on the basketball court.
In Talladega, a 16-year-old sophomore honors student and high school basketball player is warming the bench at home.  He's been there since mid-January, suspended from school after an altercation with his basketball coach. His family is concerned the young man isn't being treated fairly. Was the incident just a part of the coaching culture, building character or something more?

Several months ago we heard from a concerned mother after her son was charged with assaulting his basketball coach and was facing six months in boot camp. There is some video of the incident and her family shared it with us. We asked the Talldega High School coach, the principal and the school superintendent to talk to us on camera, none of whom would and now we want to show it to you. What do you think really happened between the player and the coach?

Student said, "I kept trying to get away. I kept telling him to quit."

The video is grainy, there's no sound, but it's clear something happened between an adult and a student in this security video from Talladega City High School.

"It wasn't like practice or none of that, none of that. It was like he was trying to cause harm to me," the student said.

Because he's a juvenile, we won't show his face or use his real name but he will tell you his side of what happened after a junior varsity basketball game January 16.

On the JV team, this student - we'll call "Henry" - along with a player from the opposing team were both ejected from the game for a shoving match, but they shook hands after the game was over.

“Henry's” family explains the varsity coach came down out of the bleachers to yell at “Henry.” At least one witness I talked to, the student, and his family say the coach yelled at the student from the end of the game on the court, down this hallway to the locker room.

"We got under the tunnel to where the crowd couldn't see, he pushed me into the locker. Then when he pushed me, I turned around, I turned around and began, proceed to walk," Henry said. "That's when I was like walking toward the locker room again, then last time, like right by the doorway he pushed me, I hit my head on the ban as I hit my head he ran into the locker room with his fist balled up."

"Henry" claims the coach pushed him into a locker, and grabbed his jersey. 

"One of my friends was right between us, he ran over, put his hand over my friend's shoulder and literally hit me in my chest, then that's when I hit him," "Henry" explained.

“Henry” doesn't deny hitting his coach back, that strike isn't on the security camera, but a Talladega police officer did see "Henry" hitting the coach and charged him with assault.

One adult witness told me she saw blood coming from the coach's temple. Another told me during the walk in the hallway, "Henry" yelled loudly at the coach, "Get off of me and leave me alone."

"Henry" says he was just defending himself. His family agrees.

"After walking away and someone still pursuing you, I feel like you have a right to defend yourself," "Henry's" mom LaShawn Atchison Swain said.

Not only does "Henry" face assault charges, according to state law the district can't allow him back in school until the juvenile case has ended.

“Henry” and his family said up until January's altercation, he had a 3.9 GPA and was in the gifted program. While he has been given homework, he has no one to teach the material to him.

Since this incident, Swain's son has been out of school, his GPA falling, and he's not sure he ever wants to play high school basketball again.

We asked Birmingham defense attorney and CNN Legal Analyst Eric Welch Guster - who is not connected to this case - to watch the security video.

"This could have easily been one of those, let's wash it up. This is one where both people may have been wrong," Guster said.

We also asked Guster for the DA’s point of view, as well as a defense attorney's point of view.

"The DA will look at from the stand point, this was an adult, he may have been disciplining this young man and trying to get him in line to be a good student or behave properly," Guster said.

But from the defense attorney's point of view, “In this video it seemed like, someone got between both of these people, and was pushing the younger guy back, and the coach kept coming which makes that person possibly the aggressor," he said.

The coach was also called an aggressor by a certified forensic analyst who was hired by the family. In his report, the analyst circles "Henry's" hands which were down at his side during the altercation.  The coach's weren't.

Coaches across the country have faced discipline and/or been fired for aggressive actions with players, from Bobby Knight to more recent incidents like Mike Rice at Rutgers to John O'Connor at Holy Family University. Knight and Rice were fired. O'Connor resigned.

But does Talladega City High School's incident rank up there with these others?

We've tried to ask other coaches that question and only one agreed to look at the security video. Although he wouldn't comment on camera and didn't want to be identified, he did tell me off camera that he knows that coach, was surprised by his behavior but "didn't see anything inappropriate in the video."

He also told me, if a player gets ejected from the game, he too would "come out of the bleachers and yell at the student, that's a fine." He's referring to a $300 fine from the state athletic association for an ejection. That organization wouldn't comment on this story.

The coach also told me, he "feels for the kid in juvy" and believes it went too far, "taking him to jail, it wouldn't have gone that far with me."

As for “Henry” and his family they're hoping for the best in juvenile court. His mom believes the coach should also be charged.

"I just want my son to be treated fairly and I feel like the coach should also be held accountable," Swain said.

Guster isn't convinced the coach involved in this incident should face charges.

"I don't necessary believe it's enough to charge him, but it's enough to have a meeting, where we need to discuss making some rule changes and making sure that coaches don't do this type of thing anymore," he said.

Talladega County District Attorney Steven Giddons said he couldn't comment about the case. The Talladega High School principal said the same. The coach in the incident said he wasn't making any comments and that the video spoke for itself. As for “Henry's” court case, it has been continued with no new court date.
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