High school coaches and teachers are responsible for keeping students safe while instructing them in sports and, more importantly, in life skills. One Utah coach has apparently violated that charge in the worst way imaginable, and will now be forced to stand trial for his transgressions.
According to the Deseret News, Wasatch (Utah) High football coach Steve North will be forced to stand trial for a charge of child abuse stemming from a physical confrontation he had with a student during the 2010-11 school year. North also serves as a physical education teacher at Wasatch High, where he has served as a teacher and coach for 16 years.
It now seems somewhat unlikely that will happen after a videotape shown in court on Thursday depicted North striking a tardy student in the head with a floor hockey stick, then kneeing him in the groin. When called to the witness stand for testimony at the hearing, the 17-year-old Wasatch High student said that he was punished by the coach for being somewhere between 5-20 minutes late to his gym class.
Here's how the Deseret News claim the teen's testimony played out on Thursday:
"[The victim] said, 'That's messed up, hitting me on the head with a hockey stick.' He said, 'I'll show you what's messed up.'"
The student said the coach then shoved him against a wall and kneed him in the "upper thigh and private area."
It was difficult to hear the next portion of the teen's testimony, but a victim advocate working with the student said he testified that the coach told him, "I'm not just going to hurt you, I'm going to kill you."
The student said he had a "goose egg" on his head for a day and a tennis-ball sized, black and blue bruise on his upper thigh. He said the pain was, "six or seven on the 10 list."
North's defense team is arguing that the teen's testimony is unreliable due to a number of discrepancies, ranging from how late he was to the class and a key piece of his exchange with the coach, when he allegedly told North, "I can't believe you just [expletive] did that," after being struck with the hockey stick. The teen also testified to being in significant pain after the incident, yet was shown on video conversing calmly with classmates and playing in a field hockey game shortly after it occurred.
Thursday's hearing sets up a dramatic final act in the long running Utah saga, in which (perhaps surprisingly) North has received significant public support. After the longtime football coach was first put on leave when the child abuse allegations first surfaced in March, hundreds of Wasatch students held a public walk out in support of the coach, with a number of them claiming that the victim, "had it coming." Since then, students have started a Facebook group supporting the coach who many hope will return to the campus soon.
Now the students that were in the coach's PE class that day may also have a future role in determining what happens to the coach. The News reported that defense attorney Scott Card told the court that he planned to call "one expert witness and a whole bunch of students," in a prospective trial. Given that there were 47 students in North's gym class when the incident took place, that could make for an enormous game of "he saw, she saw" among a gaggle of high school students, all with another classmate who was hit with a hockey stick at the ready to be re-called for additional testimony himself.
If that doesn't turn an already testy situation into a courtroom circus, it's hard to imagine what else could. In the meantime, the Wasatch football program will have to soldier on without a leader it has long been heavily reliant on.
"We're all really sick of how long this is dragging on," Wasatch football player Clancy Poulson told FOX13Now.com. "We want to get it over with and have our coach back."