Kilgore coach speaks out against allegations she outed student

Published on Friday, 28 February 2014 09:14 - Written by

KILGORE (MCT) -- The defense attorney and a key witness in a Kilgore ISD lawsuit settled this past week said Wednesday they felt caught between the urge to fight and the knowledge that distasteful attention would continue on a march to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lawyer Robert Davis added he understood why Trident Insurance agreed to pay $77,000 to former student Skye Wyatt and her mother, who sued the district after a 2009 confrontation between the then-16-year-old and two coaches. It was a good business decision by the carrier, whose contract with Kilgore ISD provided legal defense but not the final say in whether to settle out of court, Davis said.

Rhonda Fletcher, who with fellow softball coach Cassandra Newell confronted the sophomore player before a March 2009 game, outlined what happened that day — beginning at lunch.

She also said she and Newell did not reveal any secrets to Wyatt’s mother, Barbara, whose suit accused the coaches of outing her lesbian daughter.

“There was no issue in talking to Mom,” Fletcher said Wednesday, recalling the 15- to 20-minute conversation the two coaches had with the player in a dressing room at Stream Flo Field beside the Driller Park diamond in Kilgore.

“Her mom knew Skye’s sexual orientation, her sexual identity, before all of this. ... So, here we are being sued for outing her when they outed Newell. ... I’m being sued for outing her — I didn’t out anybody.”

The Wyatts’ attorney, Jennifer Doan of Texarkana, did not return calls Tuesday or Wednesday seeking comment for this story.

Kilgore Superintendent Cara Cooke, who was not at the district in 2009, did not return a message seeking comment. The district declined to provide contact information for school trustees and had not responded by late Wednesday to an open records request sent Tuesday seeking that public information.

Fletcher said other key allegations in the suit were false.

“In the allegations against us, one of the things we were accused of is that we interrogated her about her sexuality,” Fletcher said. “That did not happen. ... We never locked any doors. She could have got out and walked any time. I’m never going to force a child to talk to me.”

The conversation had taken place, Fletcher said, during the interim from when players left Kilgore High School and grabbed a meal before first pitch at the off-campus field. The sophomore player walked off after the coaches thought she’d called her grandmother — one of two people approved to give the girl a ride to and from games under a signed agreement — to eat before the game.

After the player left, the coaches called Barbara Wyatt. When the mother arrived at the field, Fletcher said she and Newell told her about the day’s drama and that her daughter was dating a 19- or 20-year-old woman.

The dressing room conversation, which Fletcher said took place on bean bag chairs in the small dressing room, had been prompted by a note Newell brought Fletcher earlier during the school lunch period.

The young player announced in the note that Newell was gay.

“And in sharing that, she voiced that she was dating someone that Coach Newell used to date,” Fletcher said, adding the note was stirring more than its fair share of high school drama. “The girls on the softball team wanted this to stop.”

Fletcher said she and Newell asked the young player about the note later in the dressing room.

“I asked her why she thinks Coach Newell is gay,” she said.

Newell is gay, and Fletcher said her fellow coach had not revealed her orientation to her parents. She was forced to do that at Christmas 2009 when the lawsuit was filed.

Suddenly, a lot of strangers were reading and hearing the suit’s allegations that Newell and Fletcher, the latter heterosexual, had outed a teen girl to her mother after a locked-door interrogation.

Likening Wednesday’s newspaper interview to the day in court she was denied, Fletcher said she and Newell became targets for online bullies.

“We got emails saying, ‘I hope you have cancer and die,’ ” she said, adding her main goal was to shield her sons, 11 and 14. “It was a very emotionally trying time. This had to only affect me, this had to only affect me on the inside.”

Reached briefly by phone courtesy of Fletcher, Newell said she had no concern about this article mentioning her sexual orientation.

“It’s out there,” said Newell, who resigned from Kilgore schools two years ago.

Newell also agreed with Fletcher that the settlement, which was finalized five days after Kilgore trustees learned from attorney Davis that the sides were making offers and counter-offers, was an unwanted but sensible decision.

“I’m OK with everything,” Newell said. “And I share the same feeling (Fletcher) does about wanting to go in there to fight, but at the same time not wanting to go through it, because it’s lain heavy on my life for so long.”

Fletcher said having watched her former player give sworn deposition for the lawsuit provided incentive for living with the out-of-court settlement.

“Another factor for us in feeling OK with settling this: as much as I don’t like what Skye and Barbara Wyatt did to me, I did not want to see Skye Wyatt put on the stand and put through what she would be subjected to,” Fletcher said.

“Things that would have come out. ... At 20 or 21 years old, I don’t know how she could’ve dealt with it.”