by Julie Ann Madden
Judges have ruled in cases involving two Akron-Westfield wrestling coaches arrested in separate incidents during the 2011-2012 wrestling season.
Then Head Wrestling Coach Mark Alan VanOort, 31, was arrested and charged with Operating a motor vehicle While Intoxicated (OWI), first offense, on Jan. 12, 2012 by Sioux County authorities.
On Oct. 19, 2012, VanOort pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to serve one year of probation and pay a $1,250 fine.
On April 2, 2012, then Assistant Wrestling/Acting Head Coach Chad James Utesch, 30, was charged with six counts, including one felony, of Sexual Exploit by School Employee for incidents occurring between February 2011 and December 2011.
Akron-Westfield school officials had contacted authorities when they were notified of possible criminal activity between Utesch and a 17-year-old female student during 2011.
On Dec. 19, 2012, Judge Jeffrey A. Neary ruled Utesch’s case be dismissed due to the fact it was determined his coaching license had expired before the alleged incidents had occurred.
According to Neary’s ruling, the case came down to the definition of “school employee” as defined by Iowa Code Section 709.15(1)(f). A school employee is defined in Iowa Code Section 272.1 as “a practitioner” which is further defined as “an administrator, teacher or other licensed professional, including an individual who holds a statement of professional recognition, who provides educational assistance to students.”
According to Neary’s ruling, evidence submitted showed Utesch had received a temporary permit to coach Kindergarten through Grade 4 on Dec. 8, 2004, which was valid only for no more than 90 days from that date. His official coaching endorsement or authorization was confirmed and issued, effective Jan. 28, 2005 to Jan. 28, 2010. It was not renewed after that time.
“The defendant did not have a valid coaching endorsement or authorization even though he was performing the duties of an assistant wrestling coach after Jan. 28, 2010,” concluded Neary, “…the defendant does not meet the statutory definition of a school employee.”
Both coaches had been terminated shortly after their arrests.
“This (license expiration) unfortunately was not discovered until it was too late,” said Akron-Westfield Grades 7-12 Principal Derek Briggs on Friday, explaining license checks were supposed to be done annually.
There were several administrative personnel changes the last two years, he said. Now, new policies have been set as to whose responsibility it is to check school employees’ licensing requirements.
Teachers’ licenses are verified through the state system which flags any invalid licenses, said Briggs. Coaches were not part of that system.
Briggs could not confirm if VanOort had a valid coaching license for the 2011-2012 season. He told The Akron Hometowner he is notified if an employee doesn’t have a valid coaching license and he was not notified of any problems with VanOort’s license at the time but he didn’t know if VanOort actually had a valid coaching license.
“All teachers, coaches — anyone who needs a license is being tracked very closely now,” said Briggs. “Right now, it’s the responsibility of Business Manager Jodi Ryan.”