We tell our children to be aware of their surroundings. We tell them to trust their instincts, and we tell them that it’s okay to have boundaries, especially when it comes down to their bodies.
Seven high school girls in Lousiana asked that their boundaries be respected. They were members of the Salmen High School basketball team in Slidell La. When a new coach, Panos Bounovinas made them feel uncomfortable, they complained. And then they sat out a game to protest a lack of action by the school. And now they are off the team.
Let’s be clear. Coach Bountovinas wasn’t accused of anything approaching sexual misconduct. The girls, however, felt he was being too “touchy-feely”.
This is how Kayla Sibley, one of the dismissed players, discribed Bountovinas to the New Orleans Advocate:
“I felt uncomfortable around him on and off the court because he was very feely. Hand on the shoulders and other places and stuff. It made me feel uncomfortable. I never had a touchy-feely coach before.
I felt uncomfortable…There were two games this season when (female assistant coach Wendy Stampley) told him to get out of the locker room while we were dressing. He hesitated. (Previous) coach (Kevin) Anderson last year never had that problem. Coach Bountovinas was just standing there. It took him a while to get out. This has happened more than once.”
Like I said, he wasn’t accused of any overtly sexual conduct. But our children have a right to deny access to their bodies – their shoulders… and other places and stuff. Even to successful basketball coaches.
The girls eventually took their concerns to the school, which launched an investigation. Representitives of the school released this statement.
“A thorough investigation by the St. Tammany Parish Public School System has found that allegations brought up in regards to the Salmen High Girls Basketball Coach are unfounded.”
I don’t know how someone launches an investigation into something so profoundly intimate and subjective as personal boundaries, but this is how it should have gone.
Principal: “You’re saying you feel uncomfortable?”
Principal: “Coach, do you have to touch her shoulders to do your job?”
Principal: “Then, how bout you don’t touch their shoulders anymore, okay? And, uh, stop lingering in the locker room. That’s creepy.”
It seems so simple. Much more simple than trying to find some objective way to measure how comfortable, or uncomfortable, one should feel about another’s touch.
That’s when the seven girls sat out an away game to protest both the decision and the Coaches itchy hands. The school’s response was quick. They were all kicked off of the team within 24 hours. When asked why, Principal Brennan McCurley told the girls they “weren’t allowed to ask questions.”
No decision has been made as to wether or not the girls will return to the team. Administrators say that the decision will be made after the holidays.
It is curious, though, that the team would risk their championship status – their team won the state championship in both 2013 and 2014 – in order to prove a point to the students. When they could have simply shown their support, and asked Coach Feely to keep his hands to himself.