A basketball coach in Rhode Island is on administrative leave and under investigation for questionable behavior, accused of performing so-called fat tests on disrobed student-athletes.
As first reported by WPRI-TV, longtime former North Kingstown High School boys’ basketball coach Aaron Thomas has been placed on paid leave at his new job as the attorney general investigates allegations of inappropriate interactions with minors.
Thomas became widely respected during more than two decades as a coach at North Kingstown for his success on the court, culminating in the school’s first-ever state championship in 2019.
Two years after that victorious season, Thomas was out at North Kingstown, quietly taking a new job at a middle school in a neighboring town, WPRI-TV reported. There was not an announcement about the celebrated coach’s departure until last week, when Thomas was put on administrative leave in his new position after the attorney general’s office confirmed it was investigating his behavior as a coach.
A months-long WPRI-TV investigation revealed that former student-athletes had come forward with allegations that Thomas asked them to take off their clothes alone with him for years.
According to the WPRI report, Thomas would instruct the teenagers to strip, then perform stretches, sit cross-legged in front of him, and allow him to use a caliper to pinch and measure their body fat, according to documents obtained by WPRI-TV and interviews with 10 former students, parents and town officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Two others sent emails to WPRI-TV detailing similar experiences.
The word "shocking" can be overused. But what @Eli_Sherman and @TimWhiteRI discovered in this investigation is truly a shock. https://t.co/7Ypc6oT3wZ— Ted Nesi (@TedNesi) November 1, 2021
The people who spoke to WPRI-TV about their experiences had either played for Thomas as students or were parents of children who played for him ranging from the early 2000s to as recently as 2019. Some played sports other than basketball.
“After I grew up, I started asking some real questions about what happened,” one former player said. “Did I need to be naked?”
As part of its investigation, WPRI-TV contacted five professional personal trainers. Each said it is unnecessary to be naked for such a test.
Examinations of body fat are known technically as skinfold caliper measurements, but students in North Kingstown just called them “fat tests.” Tests were done without parental consent or anyone else present, according to the people interviewed along with police records obtained by WPRI-TV.
Several students said the naked testing struck them as “weird” at the time, especially because they didn’t appear to be connected to any type of exercising or dieting regimen. But because it was their coach asking them to take off their clothes, they said they trusted him. And several explained that they were never physically forced to get naked.
Each student was interviewed separately by WPRI-TV, but they had similar memories. They said Thomas would first ask them to take their clothes off down to their underwear, then ask if they were “shy or not shy?” If shy, they said they could keep their underwear on. If not shy, they were asked to take their underwear off. While both options were offered, some of the former students said they felt that keeping their underwear on made them look weak in front of a person who would ultimately decide whether they could be trusted on the basketball court or as an elite athlete.
Multiple people told WPRI-TV the testing happened quarterly, and in some cases more often. Every former student and parent interviewed by WPRI-TV said the tests happened inside Thomas’s office at the school, where he taught communications in addition to coaching basketball.
The North Kingstown Police Department confirmed they were notified about Thomas’ behavior as early as 2018.
The criminal convictions of Larry Nassar, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team doctor who sexually abused hundreds of girls and young women, made a former North Kingstown student-athlete come forward that year.
The town police started investigating the matter closely earlier this year, after the FBI reached out to the department to follow up on an anonymous tip the bureau had received about Thomas’s behavior, according to records obtained by WPRI-TV.
The North Kingstown School Department launched its own internal review of the allegations against Thomas, according to a recent letter sent to parents from the superintendent.
Thomas in June resigned ahead of being terminated. Thomas was hired over the summer as a middle-school social studies teacher at Monsignor Clarke School, a Catholic school in neighboring South Kingstown.
Thomas did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails from WPRI-TV.