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COACH TURNS INTO PUMPKINHEAD

"We make the complaint, yet we're investigated."
And exonerated. The investigation's measured findings stand in marked contrast to the rhetoric of VanderMolen's disciples, which was becoming more and more strident as the weeks went on. "So, let me get this straight," wrote Debra Lewis, whose husband had founded the "New Thomas Paine Committee" that publishes the Right Wing Chronicle. "Our school board and administration feel that it's more important for their employees to work in an environment free from hostility than, say, our students?"

The AAA team found that Sixkiller and Schell had been subjected to a "hostile and intimidating work environment" for years, and all thanks to VanderMolen. The situation had become so tense that by the mid-Eighties, Schell requested a transfer to another school; when no openings became available, she stayed on. But tensions increased when the ninth grade was folded into LHS and the department increased to six teachers, including Sixkiller; scheduling the facilities became increasingly difficult--as did VanderMolen. In October 1991 Schell submitted her resignation as chair of the physical education department. "My reasons for resigning boil down to one individual on our staff, Dave VanderMolen," she wrote Principal Aschenbrenner. "While I have thoroughly enjoyed working with members of our department over the years, I can truly say that Mr. VanderMolen has not been easy to work with as a person or as a professional...Mr. VanderMolen does not follow course guidelines as written in the student course description book and has commented numerous times that he will not `change.' He displays a `my way or no way' attitude."

Aschenbrenner and several other members of the department convinced Schell to stay on. But the problems continued. Although LHS adopted a weight-training program at VanderMolen's suggestion, the coach himself refused to adhere to the guidelines, making scheduling difficult. For example, the AAA team noted, in 1992 "Sixkiller agreed to take only half the gym for her class, although it meant that half of her class sat idle...She ceded the other half to VanderMolen's class, who would engage in a recreational sport on the off days from weight training." And so it went its petty way until May 1994, when Sixkiller, VanderMolen and Schell "started on a collision course," the team noted. The fight began when VanderMolen took the softball gloves, even though Sixkiller's class was scheduled to use the equipment. Schell reported the incident to Aschenbrenner, who convened department lunch meetings to smooth things over. They remained rough.

It didn't help that Schell overheard VanderMolen in a local cafe, bragging at a prayer breakfast with two of his Amway salesmen that he'd "pulled the wool over the department's eyes." And then there was the matter of the mat that Schell and Sixkiller had affixed to the back of the basketball backboard to protect students using the new climbing wall. Although the gymnastics coach had marked the mat for "discard," VanderMolen claimed that the two women had taken one of his wrestling mats. He was still stewing over it months later, complaining about the "dumb women" to anyone who would listen. To others, he was complaining about a lot more. According to the AAA investigators, before last fall's football tournament game in Durango, VanderMolen told a former football parent that "things are going great except that I am having trouble working with the lesbians in the P.E. department." He asked one Ironworks student, "Who taught you to do those squats? Those men-haters?" He asked another if she felt uncomfortable undressing before Sixkiller.

In their investigation, the AAA team looked into the locker room, where Schell's office window was entirely blocked by a poster. "The Fact-Finders interviewed many young women [including students whose names were suggested by VanderMolen] about Schell and Sixkiller's conduct in the locker room and elsewhere," the team reported "and, uniformly, were told that they never said or did anything that these young women considered inappropriate."

On the other hand, the team considered VanderMolen's behavior out of line on several occasions and recommended that he not be allowed to return to LHS. The rest of the physical education department concurred. (Head football coach Gordon Cramer, who had worked with VanderMolen for more than twenty years, told a reporter, "If whoever in their wisdom decides he's going to be back here, then I'm going to be somewhere else.") The rest of the faculty also concurred, as did many of the students. So did Bishopp and new St. Vrain Superintendent Roger Driver, who happens to have replaced another man accused of sexual harassment. VanderMolen had to go.

It was only VanderMolen and his ardent supporters who did not agree. The deposed coach elevated his cause to a holy crusade, arguing that he was being punished for his religious beliefs. "That's insulting on a personal level," says Schell. "I was born and raised in the Catholic faith, and I consider myself a Christian." Even so, VanderMolen was so convincing that he attracted an unexpected, uninvited ally: Colorado for Family Values rescheduled its "Time to Stand" seminar for the Boulder/Longmont area to March 31, advertising it with the headline, "Longmont, will you take a few hours to stand against the forced affirmation of homosexuality?" And as much as CFV founder Kevin Tebedo argued that the seminar was not pegged to current events in Longmont, the next line, "What does Longmont do when open homosexuals are allowed to advocate their lifestyle to our children in our schools?" clearly belied that.

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