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As a freshman at Shawnee High School, Rob Hair dreamed of making it to college on a basketball scholarship.
“I was good,” he said.
And then he met the head coach.
“I was sexually pursued, harassed and intimidated by Ron Arthur,” he wrote in a statement last month for a criminal investigation of the former coach. “What started as an exciting new venture into my high school career quickly turned to the most negative experience in my life.”
Hair is one of four former students who have come forward to accuse Arthur of sexual misconduct.
“Yes, it’s messed with me,” Hair told The Oklahoman about his experiences in 2006 and 2007.
He alleges the coach fondled him at the school. He was then 15.
“I have trauma from it,” he said. “I believe I am one of many. … I just want other victims to know that you can move on from what happened then. … I want kids to know that you should be heard and you should be protected.”
Arthur, 51, is now facing a felony charge over accusations made by two of the four former students.
He denies wrongdoing but admits he bought food, clothes and shoes for students and took some to events outside of school.
Among the evidence found by investigators are pictures received on his Grindr account of male genitals and buttocks, court records show.
He faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted in Pottawatomie County District Court of all three felony counts.
Ron Arthur served 16 seasons as Shawnee boys basketball coach
He resigned as assistant athletic director Sept. 3 after coming under investigation. The resignation was effective Friday, one day before a scheduled termination hearing.
He resigned as boys basketball coach last year after 16 seasons.
The investigation has rocked Shawnee. The school board and the school superintendent, April Grace, have faced sharp criticism ever since a sheriff’s deputy revealed Arthur has been in trouble before.
One parent complained to school board members Monday “we now have an entire generation of Shawnee youth exploited” because of their inaction.
“The perception of habitual apathy and disregard for protecting our children while protecting a pedophile will forever follow some of you,” the parent, Matt Miller, said at the school board’s regular monthly meeting.
“Do the right thing and please resign.”
The outcry comes as Grace is campaigning for state schools superintendent.
She is one of three Republicans seeking to take over from Joy Hofmeister. The election is next year. Hofmeister cannot run again because of term limits.
Grace has been superintendent in Shawnee since 2016.
“Although I would like to be able to clarify and respond more fully, as you know employment law prevents me from doing so,” she said in an email last week.
“In my 30 years in public education, I have learned that facing criticism is a part of leadership and often inherent in this job.”
Former coach used Grindr app to meet student, police say
The superintendent suspended Arthur Aug. 2 and later recommended he be fired. He was charged Sept. 9.
Arthur came under investigation in July after a former student reported meeting him twice for oral sex at a dead-end road after chatting on the Grindr app.
Grindr describes itself as the largest social networking app for gay, bi, trans and queer people. The accuser was 17 at the time of the encounters in May and July.
Prosecutors charged Arthur with forcible sodomy over the first meeting May 22, which was after graduation. Prosecutors allege the accuser was still a student at the time because of involvement in sports.
Prosecutors also charged Arthur with soliciting sexual contact with a minor by use of technology. They allege he repeatedly used a cellphone this year “in order to coerce the alleged victim into sexual conduct.”
Former coach’s attorney continues to deny criminal allegations
“He continues to deny any relationships with students or anyone under the age of consent,” his attorney, Shelley Levisay, said.
She specifically said the sexual contact at the dead-end road was consensual. She said Arthur thought he was dealing with someone over 18 because of Grindr age-use restrictions.
Prosecutors charged Arthur with second-degree rape after another former student reported being pressured into sex at Arthur’s apartment in 2011.
Prosecutors claim in the charge that this alleged victim also was a current student at the time. They allege Arthur plied him with alcohol.
The defense attorney, Levisay, said Arthur denies that happened.
Prosecutors could not charge Arthur over accusations made by the two other former students because too much time has passed.
Hair alleges being fondled in 2006 and 2007 while on the freshman basketball team.
The fourth accuser reported being being forced into oral sex multiple times in 2006 when he was a senior. He told investigators Arthur indicated he would not graduate “if he did not do this,” reports show.
Story continues below.
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Former student said coach called him ‘so sexy’
Hair, now 30, helps businesses provide heath care benefits to their employees.
He spoke with The Oklahoman in the driveway of his home on the night his former coach was charged.
Hair is listed by his initials as a prosecution witness in the case.
He repeated what he told Shawnee police in 2007 and a sheriff’s deputy this year — that Arthur fondled his testicles, asked him about masturbating, recommended porn websites to watch, massaged his hands and arms, and made vulgar comments about girl players.
He also repeated what he told law enforcement about Arthur coming up to him at a basketball team party in 2007 at the Shawnee mayor’s house.
“I’m standing there, playing pool,” Hair recalled in the interview outside his home. “He comes up to me, kind of grabs me by the hand, whispers in my ear, ‘Your hands are so soft. We should just go upstairs and go ahead and go get a room right now.'”
In his statement to the sheriff’s deputy, he wrote Arthur also whispered, “You’re so sexy.”
He didn’t go upstairs with the coach.
“I just kind of laughed it off,” he told The Oklahoman. “And, as soon as I could, I called my mom. And I went outside … and waited for her to come pick me up.”
He said the coach regularly did “nut checks” on players, at practice and in school hallways. “He would just come up to you and backhand you,” Hair recalled.
But Arthur singled him out for more attention, Hair said. The coach began stopping him in the hallways of the school when no one else was around.
“Honestly, it felt like he always knew when I was going to be alone. It was just one of those weird things.”
He said Arthur fondled him at least three times, twice in the coach’s office and once in a hallway.
The first time, he said, was in Arthur’s dimly lit office. He said Arthur stood up, grabbed his hands, said, “Oh, Rob, your hands are so soft,” then fondled him for three to seven seconds.
He eventually talked about Arthur to his mother and stepfather who had noticed he was unhappy. They went to school administrators.
The superintendent at the time, Marilyn Bradford, suspended the coach and conducted an internal investigation. She concluded Arthur “did not commit an act of perversion,” records show.
She did find he had flicked his hand at Hair as a way to intimidate and that he had used off-color language. The coach would be admonished.
“He denies everything but the cup checking with Rob Hair and he has denied it since 2007,” his defense attorney said. “Rob Hair made these allegations of fondling and then continued to play basketball for him.”
Hair acknowledged he played “summer ball” after his freshman year and intended to play his sophomore year. He just couldn’t do it.
He quit after a confrontation with the coach. He then spent months of his sophomore year in another school district.
He also went to a counselor who told his parents to go to the police. A detective investigated but prosecutors declined to file charges. They said there was insufficient evidence.
Hair never played in a high school game again.
“It hurts,” he said.
He gestured to the edge of his driveway.
“I have a regulation goal. It’s a goal you would find in a high school gym right now. It was everything to me. It still is.”
Parents express concerns about behavior
His mother, Delinda Curtis, emailed the new superintendent, Grace, on April 3, 2018, about what he had experienced.
“Today we live in a culture where awareness of grooming, sexual intimidation, and recognizing signs of inappropriate relations between children and educators are imperatively addressed,” she wrote.
“I am thankful that we are seeking safer environments for our kids.
“It has come to our attention that Mr. Arthur still seeks to have some type of relationship with students and players outside of the classroom and gym. My husband and I have seen him at the movie theaters with a couple of young teens. It is also my understanding that he continues to make inappropriate remarks to kids. His actions have not changed.”
Curtis sent the email after talking to a school board member.
That board member was concerned about the coach’s interactions with her own 16-year-old son, records show. The coach had taken the teenager at one point to an Oklahoma State University football game in Stillwater.
The school board member approached Grace herself, records show. Her son reported seeing Arthur put lotion on another student’s back after a shower.
Arthur was reprimanded in 2018 after an internal investigation, records show. The school board member later resigned.
“There was no information ever turned over to law enforcement for a proper investigation of sexual misconduct,” sheriff deputies wrote in a report after learning about the 2018 concerns.
Hair said he is not surprised nothing really happened in 2018. “I had a gut feeling,” he said.
His mother also spoke at the school board meeting Monday.
“How can parents trust a system to protect their children when that system actively kept an abuser in a position of power and does not leave ways for kids to have a voice?” Curtis asked.
The Oklahoman typically does not identify sex crime victims. Hair agreed to be named.
Is the criminal case against Ron Arthur in jeopardy?
Issues with the charge against Arthur have surfaced already.
Most significantly, the accuser who reported a sexual encounter in 2011 told sheriff deputies he had already graduated, The Oklahoman has learned.
Also, he said he was 18 at the time.
Arthur denies “any and all allegations” made by that accuser, his attorney said.
“Even if true and a sexual relationship between him and an 18-year-old student occurred then, it was not a crime under Oklahoma law at that time,” Levisay said.
The law then criminalized teacher sexual activity only if the student was under 18, she said. The law changed in 2015, criminalizing sex with a student up to age 20.