YMCA issues statement to members after local swim coach accused - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

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YMCA issues statement to members after local swim coach accused of rape

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HOLYOKE, MA (WSHM) - The executive director of the Greater Holyoke YMCA issued a statement to YMCA members on Monday morning after a Westfield mother took her daughter's story of rape public.

Monica Strzempko's daughter, Anna, alleges she was raped for two and a half years at the hands of a Greater Holyoke YMCA Vikings swim coach.

But Anna's story of alleged sexual abuse is just part of what appears to be a nation-wide problem in the world of swimming.

"I remember once Anna told me it was like cocaine, she would do anything for his approval," Monica said. 

Olympic dreams, thoughts of swimming with the legends - those were Anna's aspirations as a kid swimming at the Greater Holyoke YMCA.

It all came to a halt when she was 13 in 2008. 

Suddenly her love of swimming had vanished. By the time Anna was 16, Monica says she barely recognized her, completely unaware that her daughter had sustained sexual abuse allegedly at the hands of her coach, Randall Smith a well-known Holyoke Y coach who had produced champion swimmers and had even spent Thanksgiving with the Strzempko's.

"I had this bright, outgoing, social, athletic daughter who isolated herself, lost 20 pounds, clung to a boyfriend, nothing like the behavior I new in her," Monica said. 

It wasn't until three years later, when Anna was 16 that she began sharing her story in bits and pieces to her friends and family. That's when they brought her to the Holyoke police department, who told them without DNA evidence or an eyewitness account, her case could go no further.

"It's her word against his, that would never hold up in court," Monica said. 

The Y terminated Smith after Monica came forward with her daughter's police statement.

Meantime, Anna and her family were about to take on something much bigger, the governing body of the sport, USA Swimming.

They heard Anna's testimony twice before finally closing her case for good last year, saying without criminal charges against Smith, they couldn't act.

But Anna didn't stay quiet, her name is on a petition with the likes of swimming legends like Diana Nyad, calling for changes and calling out the executive director of USA Swimming, Chuck Wielgus.

He would eventually apologize in a blog post and because of the onslaught of sexual abuse charges in the world of youth swimming, USA Swimming became one of the first governing sports bodies to publish a list of coaches who had been banned.

Seventy-three of the 106 coaches on the list have been banned for allegations of sexual misconduct, four of them from Massachusetts.

CBS 3 wanted to ask Wielgus where the sport goes from here. Friday, a representative with the organization returned our messages, saying they cannot comment on open cases like that of Smith's.

Meantime, Smith will face a hearing Monday, Nov. 17 before the USA Swimming board to determine whether he, too should be banned, some six years after Anna's alleged ordeal.

His lawyer, Michael Aleo told CBS 3 in a statement, "My client fully denies all the charges and when the time comes he'll tell his story, but now is not that time."

To that Monica only has this to say:

"I heard a quote once that someone said, 'do kids lie?' and they said, 'yes, but adults lie a lot more.'"

Today, Anna is a 20-year-old college student at Wesleyan, she no longer swims, instead choosing writing as an outlet. Monica says she's done fighting, but Anna's journey is just beginning.

"I'm done. the next cause is Anna's and she's been very outspoken and she's gotten many messages from girls who have undergone things saying thank you...and she has an inner strength that amazes me that i think she will navigate through this."

CBS 3 has also reached out to the Holyoke YMCA for a statement on their commitment to keeping kids safe.

A decision regarding Smith's future with USA Swimming is not expected for weeks.

Executive director, Kathy Viens issued the following statement: 

"Dear YMCA Members:

There is an article in the December issue of Outside magazine that mention allegations of sexual abuse; the allegations have been made by a former YMCA Vikings Swim Team member against the team's former head coach.

To be sure, these are disturbing allegations. We take our responsibility to children and their families very seriously at the Greater Holyoke YMCA. Under the circumstances, we feel it is appropriate to affirm our commitment to keeping kids safe.

The YMCA was notified of this allegation in December 2011. We immediately placed the employee on leave and filed the required report with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Greater Holyoke YMCA terminated the coach's employment in July 2012 as a result of these allegations.

We have a series of measures in place to protect our families. Some examples of our standards and practices include:

  • conducting criminal background checks and reference checks on all staff prior to hiring;
  • conducting criminal background checks on all volunteers;
  • requiring all staff and volunteers to complete training on recognizing and preventing abuse;
  • prohibiting staff and volunteers from being alone with a child where they cannot be observed by others;
  • restricting staff contact with children outside of YMCA programs;
  • educating parents on how to recognize and prevent abuse; and
  • reporting any allegations or suspicions of abuse to law enforcement.
At the Greater Holyoke YMCA, the safety and well-being of children in our care always has been and always will be a top priority. We remain committed to our child safety practices. Our YMCA engages over 1500 children each year, and we work hard every day to make sure they're happy, healthy, and safe.

As always, thank you for being a part of our YMCA family. We greatly appreciate your participation and support. Please contact me if you have questions.

Sincerely,

Kathy Viens

CEO"


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