Woodland High School head volleyball coach Ginger Walter says a short clip of a year-old video showing a freshman player in her program holding a burning candle with her hands zip-tied surrounded by candle-holding teammates — at what some are calling a "team-bonding" event and others are calling a "hazing" — is incomplete, misleading and part of a directed effort to remove her from her coaching position.
"They're trying to say there was a hazing party at my house," Walter told The Times on Thursday night. "They're trying to make up this story of hazing and saying I knew all about it. I didn't know about it, and it wasn't really a hazing."
The video was shown Thursday in a CBS 2 Chicago news report and promptly exploded on social media. That was a day after a Woodland school board meeting in which the board addressed "the consideration and action upon the possible discipline and/or dismissal of a coach," by calling the agenda item and having one board member suggest a one-month suspension. The motion was not seconded, so no vote was taken, and no discipline or dismissal occurred.
Woodland senior volleyball player Mary Smith appeared on the CBS 2 Chicago report saying she recorded the video of the incident, taken last school year, at Walter's home. Mary's mother Teresa, who also appeared on the report, wasn't available for comment Friday, indicating she would speak to The Times on Saturday.
"The coaches did nothing about it," she said on the TV report. "(Members of the team) walked (freshmen) down the stairs, sat them in chairs and made them hold candles with their hands zip-tied, and they just said stupid stuff to them."
Mary Smith and her mother, Teresa, also said on the news report Walter's voice could be heard in the video clip. The Woodland coach denies she knew anything about the incident until happening upon it, and then put an immediate end to it.
"The video (CBS is) showing that has been on the Chicago news is incomplete," said Walter, who has been a coach in the Woodland volleyball program either at the junior high, JV or varsity levels for the past decade. "They are not showing the video in its entirety. They are trying to take (information from my accusers) and make me look like a bad person.
"What (the video clip) doesn't show is the way we (the coaches) stopped it from happening. The seniors zip-tied (the freshmen's) hands, not tight, but we stopped it. The coaches did stop it, and we went on having a good time at our team-bonding party and went on to watch 'The Miracle Season,' a volleyball movie."
Friday morning, Woodland Superintendent Ryan McGuckin said the matter was investigated after the video was delivered to the school the night of July 31 and presented to each board member ahead of this week's board meeting.
"That video was brought to the administration on registration day," McGuckin said, "and we interviewed the students involved, the parents involved and the coaches involved. That video as well as the findings from the investigation were brought to the board.
"I met with each board member, we reviewed the information we found and watched the video together before the board meeting, and we also brought forth some of the other allegations regarding Coach Walter. ... On Wednesday during executive (closed) session, the board heard from parents and community members regarding not only this incident, but also other incidents and concerns from players, parents, students and concerned community members. I believe there were 11 groups of people the board met with ... 12 if you count Mrs. Walter. ...
"The findings were presented to the board (sometime between Aug. 1 and the Aug. 14 board meeting), and then the board made a decision based on Coach Walter's coaching the team from the time that we met until after this past Wednesday's board meeting."
McGuckin didn't elaborate on those "other incidents and concerns" regarding Walter's coaching, citing policy prevents him from discussing personnel matters, but did say "the same group has brought up multiple concerns, the video being one of them."
Walter believes the allegations are part of "a witch hunt" in retaliation for a school disciplinary matter McGuckin said he could not discuss. Teresa Smith disagrees with the timeline Walter presented.
"The girl (shown in the video clip) was actually laughing and even said she doesn't feel like she was being hurt or threatened in any way," Walter said.
Teresa Smith disagrees, and along with the families of a few other students, they took part in forming a petition for the removal of Walter that led to Wednesday's board item.
"It is hazing," she told CBS 2 Chicago, "and anything could've happened to any one of those girls — dropped a candle, fallen down the stairs."
McGuckin said Woodland administration has asked for the rest of the video from the incident but they have not received it. While no action was taken Wednesday and Walter remains the school's head volleyball coach as the season approaches, he also said the investigation remains open and the school is planning to address the larger issues of bullying and hazing with its student body.
"We're preparing for some kind of anti-bullying, anti-hazing presentation for our students," he said. "We as a school need to educate our students in doing the right thing — on the volleyball court, in the classroom, out in the community — and being good role models."