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Suburban volleyball coach’s accusers testify in Senate hearing

Thursday, May 17, 2018

By Hannah Meisel

* Michael O’Brien and Jon Seidel from the Sun-Times have been following this story for months now, in November publishing an expose on former Olympic volleyball coach turned suburban club coach Rick Butler’s alleged sexual abuse of his female team members.

Since then, Butler has been class action suit from parents and past alleged victims.

* Earlier this week, two of Butler’s former players testified in front of a special Senate committee hearing on sexual harassment about the alleged sexual abuse and even rape they endured while being coached by Butler decades ago.

They asked lawmakers to consider extending the statute of limitations in sexual abuse cases, in situations when the accused abuser threatens to sue victims for defamation to try to keep them from coming forward.

* The Sun-Times’ report details how Butler and his wife, who run the Sports Performance Volleyball Club in Aurora, allegedly threatened the girls into silence.

Three women who in the 1990s accused a popular west suburban volleyball coach of sexual abuse have long said he was never prosecuted because they didn’t make their accusations until crucial legal deadlines had passed.

But Tuesday, one of them told state lawmakers Rick Butler could have faced criminal charges if another accuser, who remains anonymous to this day, had come forward at the same time. Instead, she was allegedly threatened into silence.

“She’s still ‘Jane Doe,’ as you can imagine,” Sarah Powers-Barnhard said during a hearing in Springfield. “And that came from being threatened.”

* WGN’s account of Sarah Powers Barnhard’s testimony

“He told me I had to follow him blindly. That if I wanted to reach my goals to play in college and the Olympics, I had to understand I was different from everybody else. I had to follow him blindly. I just listened and he just leaned over and kissed me. I hadn’t even kissed a boy at that point,” Powers Barnhard said.

She said kissing was just the beginning. And while she played for him, he sexually assaulted her hundreds of times.

“When we were in Germany as a team, we were on a train, and he grabbed me and took me into the bathroom and raped me there with my teammates close by,” she said.

“We were staying in tents and our host put is in a room. Rick slept on the floor next to me and he fondled me during the night with my teammates next to me. I could do nothing about it.”

* Tribune story

“I’m not here today because I want to relive all of the horrible things that Rick Butler did to me when I was a child entrusted to his care,” Julie Romias said in a hushed Capitol hearing room. “I’m here because I feel that I have to be because change needs to happen.”

So awful.

- Posted by Hannah Meisel        

17 Comments »
  1. - JB Pritzker’s Quilted Vest - Thursday, May 17, 18 @ 9:30 am:

    Youth sports in America: some coaches really care, some coaches you wouldn’t trust to watch your dog.


  2. - njt - Thursday, May 17, 18 @ 9:42 am:

    FYI, the double quotes in the href on the hyperlinks is breaking the HTML for the linked articles.


  3. - OneMan - Thursday, May 17, 18 @ 9:44 am:

    Ok, this is going to be a long one.

    My daughter played club volleyball in Aurora and the Aurora area for several years. The first club she played for was SportsPerformance, the next year she was not invited back (they start to limit the numbers) she was like second or third alternate or something and I think we later got a call that a slot had opened, but at that point, we had committed to a different club and once you committed you were financially locked in. This would have been in middle school.

    Shortly after at a thing for a different child and a different sport I was speaking to another family and found out about what Butler had been accused of, the ESPN Magazine story would have come out by then. This family for a variety of reasons and told me about how the program responded to their departure. “Your kid will never play varsity volleyball” and some other volleyball-related things along those same lines.

    At that point, we had decided my daughter would not try out again at Sports Performance, which was fine, she was a good player but not that good and they required a significant financial and time commitment.

    However, it is hard to understand the influence Rick had (and I suspect still has) unless you were involved in youth volleyball. His facility hosted events most weekends and may be one of the few purpose-built (we used to play in a lot of industrial parks) volleyball facilities in the country (they have even expanded it once). I knew of families who drove significant distances several days a week to take their daughters to that facility in Aurora. Sports Performance was at the top of the pyramid of volleyball.

    Relatively recently I was at an athletic thing and a parent mentioned something about their daughter playing for them and I have to admit I shot her a confused look because she said: “Well we talked with our daughter about it and she wanted to stay”. I have to admit I was disappointed but not surprised.

    I live kind of close to the facility and the place I get my oil changed is on the same side street. The parking lot is still full on weekends and people are parking on the street as people bring and watch their kids play at tournaments at the facility (it isn’t just kids in their program playing there, kids from all over the midwest play in tournaments there), buy stuff from the pro-shop and eat the concession stand food (when we were involved there you had to volunteer X hours at the concession stand).

    The fact people still patronize his facility is depressing.


  4. - VanillaMan - Thursday, May 17, 18 @ 10:13 am:

    I am uncomfortable trying 25 year old cases of this kind because there isn’t a lot of concrete evidence beyond the two persons involved.

    There are statutes of limitations for practical reasons.

    I’d dread what my old relationships could do today if any of them felt that what we had was abusive or wrong.


  5. - Anon - Thursday, May 17, 18 @ 10:19 am:

    I’m not going to comment on Mr. Butler or his past behavior because I’ve never met him and I don’t know the victims. If these things happened, then the system failed and modifications should be considered. I don’t know what happened in the past, but I can tell you what’s happening today.

    I have a lot of experience with club sports for my kids. Sports Peformance is the best club that I’ve ever been involved in. My daughter plays for Sports Performance today and she will stay there. There are hundreds of girls that are not only learning the game of volleyball, but about teamwork, responsibility, punctuality, humility, and many others. She also sees great women leaders and mentors that are coaches and managers and referees and players.

    If you want to go after Rick Butler, do your best. But, don’t ruin Sports Performance. It’s doing great things for young women and needs to stay. There are thousands of people that would speak to the merits of this club, if given the chance. The number of current members speaks to that.


  6. - Crispy - Thursday, May 17, 18 @ 10:23 am:

    V-man: this isn’t about a bad breakup—it’s about abuse of kids by a powerful and threatening adult. Similar to the Larry Nassarr situation—it was all about power; “consent” wasn’t even in the ballpark. Those poor girls.


  7. - OneMan - Thursday, May 17, 18 @ 10:26 am:

    So you feel the sanctions placed upon him by the various entities were inappropriate?

    Do you feel the pressure placed upon Sports Performance due to their relationship with his was inappropriate?


  8. - OneMan - Thursday, May 17, 18 @ 10:32 am:

    Sorry the second question is.

    Do you feel the pressure placed upon Sports Performance due to their relationship with him was inappropriate?


  9. - VanillaMan - Thursday, May 17, 18 @ 10:40 am:

    ==Similar to the Larry Nassarr==
    Perhaps, but perhaps not.
    We can”t know that.

    We could return to a time when only ladies coached ladies, and only men coached men. Our Victorian-Age ancestors would roll their eyes at us today, and ask how we forgot our common sense.


  10. - titan - Thursday, May 17, 18 @ 10:53 am:

    +++ - VanillaMan - Thursday, May 17, 18 @ 10:40 am: We could return to a time when only ladies coached ladies, and only men coached men. Our Victorian-Age ancestors would roll their eyes at us today, and ask how we forgot our common sense. +++

    That isn’t it. Several sports have had issues with same sex predatory behavior (hockey, basketball, volleyball, soccer all come to mind). The problem is a combination of predators gravitating to young sports and the wildly outsized “cults of personality” that programs allow to build up around successful coaches (at least that is my take on it as a parent involved with Junior A level hockey and elite level gymnastics).


  11. - Last Bull Moose - Thursday, May 17, 18 @ 11:00 am:

    VanillaMan. Dennis Hastert was coaching boys. Same sex coaches will not prevent abuse.


  12. - VanillaMan - Thursday, May 17, 18 @ 11:43 am:

    Did you have to bring that up?
    I was enjoying my Victorian-Age fantasy.


  13. - Mama - Thursday, May 17, 18 @ 12:56 pm:

    Parents need to teach their children to speak up when they are being abused regardless of the outcome.


  14. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, May 17, 18 @ 1:07 pm:

    ===Parents need to teach their children to speak up when they are being abused regardless of the outcome.===

    Stop victim shaming.

    That’s what you’re doing.

    Stop.

    Don’t respond to me about what you think you meant.

    Just stop.


  15. - Mad Brown - Thursday, May 17, 18 @ 1:17 pm:

    Unless anyone has actually experienced an assault of a sexual nature, please stop giving advice. Please stop pretending this is some girls’ who have sour grapes, or some relationship went south.

    For more than 30 years these women have carried the scars of this type of abuse/trauma.

    Agree with Willy — victim shaming is a bad, bad look.


  16. - Anon - Thursday, May 17, 18 @ 1:47 pm:

    If some of you want to mince words, then let’s do that…alleged victims and alleged offender. No convictions.


  17. - BigDoggie - Thursday, May 17, 18 @ 2:27 pm:

    My question is, what is Butler’s current tie with Sports Performance. Is he still involved in the business (and still presumably profiting from it)? I ask because they are obviously still a prominent presence in the youth sports scene in the Aurora area. Also, a coworker that has a daughter that plays travel volleyball said that earlier this year Butler was still very much present at big AAU tournaments - he can’t coach but he was in the stands. If he’s done all the things he is accused of, it’s a wonder somebody has not confronted him at a match yet.


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