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Orange County Register (California)

 

Two Southern California gymnastics coaches continue to work with underage gymnasts even though the sport's national governing body has suspended them while it conducts investigations into allegations of rules violations, the Southern California News Group has learned.

Colden Raisher is coaching at The Klub Gymnastics, near the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, where on Friday the top director was unaware of Raisher's suspension by USA Gymnastics.

Similarly, former U.S. national team coach Terry Gray has continued to work with young athletes at SCEGA, a club in Temecula, despite his suspension by USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Center for Safe Sport. Gray was placed on USA Gymnastics' suspension list on June 29, and the list was updated on the organization's website that day.

"No notice was given to us nor Terry from USA Gymnastics prior to the list going out on online," said Kathy Strate, an SCEGA director.

SCEGA officials had to call USA Gymnastics to find out information on Gray's suspension after it was brought to the club's attention by members of the gymnastics community.

"We were told by USA Gymnastics that we would be receiving a letter in the mail," Strate said. SCEGA received a letter from USA Gymnastics the following day.

Failure to notify clubs

SCNG has learned that USA Gymnastics has routinely failed to notify clubs and gyms when it suspends coaches and other employees under investigation for alleged sexual misconduct.

Under terms of their suspensions, Gray and Raisher can continue to coach, but can have "no unsupervised contact with minors."

The Gray and Raisher cases highlight loopholes in USA Gymnastics and the Safe Sport center's policies and the complexity of balancing the protection of young athletes and the rights of accused coaches and officials, according to longtime observers of American gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic movement's struggles to address sexual abuse.

The cases also raise questions about USA Gymnastics' commitment to protecting young athletes months after USA Gymnastics President Kerry Perry vowed the organization would be more transparent and accountable in pursuing sexual abuse cases in the wake of the Larry Nassar/Karolyi Ranch scandal, say former gymnasts and athlete-rights advocates.

"It's still not providing protection from alleged predators for our kids," Jessica O'Beirne said of USA Gymnastics and Safe Sport policies that allow some coaches and officials to continue to work with young athletes while under investigation. O'Beirne is the founder of the podcast GymCastic.

"But you also can't prevent a person from working and making a living," O'Beirne continued. "So what do you do? But this doesn't protect kids. Period."

Raisher denies any wrongdoing

Raisher said last week he didn't have time to go into the specifics of the allegations against him.

"There was no physical or sexual abuse," Raisher said. "I've never done anything questionable. I'm one of the good guys in the sport. USA Gymnastics is trying to cast a very wide net. They're trying to catch a lot of bad guys. I agree with that. But now anybody can report anything."

He said the allegations were made by officials at another gym. He previously worked at Golden State Gymnastics in Burbank.

"This has nothing to do with Safe Sport or anything sexual," Raisher said. "I changed gyms a couple of months ago and they're retaliating against me."

Golden State did not respond to requests for comment.

Raisher said he would be willing to talk about his case and explain why he was innocent of the allegations when he had more time, but did not respond to subsequent requests to do so.

While USA Gymnastics has not publicly described the nature of the allegations against the two coaches, Gray's suspension is based on USA Gymnastics bylaws 9.3 and 10.5, according to the organization. Raisher's suspension is based on 10.5, USA Gymnastics said.

Bylaw 9.3 states that USA Gymnastics "shall report and refer all allegations of sexual misconduct to the (U.S. Center for Safe Sport), and all such matters will be within the Center's exclusive jurisdiction. The Center shall investigate such allegations or reports, issue any interim suspension or other measures pending the conclusion of the investigation and any hearing(s), make recommendations of sanctions or disciplinary action as a result of such investigation, and fully adjudicate such matters."

Bylaw 10.5 reads, "At any point before a complaint is resolved under the provisions of this Article 10, interim measures may be imposed to ensure the safety and well-being of the gymnastics community or where an allegation is sufficiently serious that an Adverse Party's continued participation could be detrimental to the sport or its reputation."

4 others under investigation

Raisher and Gray are two of six coaches with California ties currently under investigation by USA Gymnastics and/or Safe Sport. Stephen Graham, Ron Manara, Antoine Billingsly and Michael Ujin Sanders are suspended from "all contact" pending their hearings, according to USA Gymnastics records.

Billingsly and Graham are suspended under bylaw 9.3, Manara and Sanders under 9.3 and 10.5.

Manara is a former UC Davis assistant women's gymnastics coach and member of the university's physical education faculty. A university spokesperson said Manara is no longer employed at the school. The university has no record of inappropriate behavior by Manara, the spokesperson added.

Graham, a former assistant coach at Eastern Michigan, worked at a series of California clubs and camps, including Gymnastics Olympica in Van Nuys, Pasadena's Vernon Lee Gymnastics Amateur Gymnastics Academy, SoCal Training Center in San Marcos, Monarchs National in Newbury Park and Woodward West in Tehachapi.

Billingsly previously worked at American Kids Sports Center in Bakersfield. SCNG was unable to find any employment records for Sanders.

USA Gymnastics said in a statement to SCNG, "The safety and well-being of our athletes is USA Gymnastics' top priority, and the USA Gymnastics Safe Sport Policy and other policies and procedures are in place for that reason. USA Gymnastics Safe Sport Department sends a letter to a suspended member at his/her last known mailing and email addresses, as well as to the respective club owner. Member clubs are informed of any suspension restrictions and are responsible for enforcing those restrictions. If a parent is aware of a coach violating the terms of a suspension, they should report it. The list of members placed on the interim suspension (and permanently ineligible individuals) is posted on usagym.org"

Even when officials at local clubs and gyms are able to contact USA Gymnastics and Safe Sport about suspensions, the organizations share only minimal information about allegations against coaches or employees. This often leaves gym and club owners with incomplete data when making decisions about allowing a suspended employee to continue working with young athletes.

In Gray's case, USA Gymnastics told SCEGA the allegations were cited in bylaws 10.5 and 9.3, Strate said. USA Gymnastics told SCEGA "these allegations did not take place in our facility, and dated back to a 2012 allegation."

"We have been given no other information," Strate said.

Gray, a U.S. national team coaching staff member from 1995 to 2005, worked for Brown's Gymnastics in Las Vegas in 2012. Gray also is under investigation for an allegation of inappropriate behavior at a gym in Ohio, according to those familiar with the investigation. He previously worked under Olympic team coach Mary Lee Tracy at Cincinnati Gymnastics, where he coached two Olympians.

Brown's officials declined to comment.

Parents complain they weren't informed

Some SCEGA parents have complained that they were not informed of Gray's suspension by the club.

"We notified all the families of the gymnasts that are coached by Terry, as these were the only families impacted," Strate said.

Strate said the decision to allow Gray to continue to coach was made after USA Gymnastics "informed us that Terry was cleared to come back to the gym under an interim measure."

SCEGA's decision to allow Gray to continue coaching came shortly after the club sent out an email limiting parents' viewing access to training sessions for top boys and girls training groups.

Under the policy, there is "no viewing" from 3:30-7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, a primary training period for top groups. Parents are allowed to view training on Friday and Saturday.

"In an effort to help with traffic congestion and viewing room crowding, the following policy is in effect," the email said. "We will be meeting with families who are not adhering to the policy. This also applies to watching on the bleachers at the Temecula location."

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