Northwest High assistant coach Carl Caldwell was suspended Thursday amid allegations of bullying within the school’s boys basketball program.
The school’s athletic director, Lance Deckinger, said Caldwell’s suspension from coaching is indefinite while Northwest’s administration investigates concerns regarding Caldwell. Deckinger and Principal Gil Alvarez would not specify what those concerns are, citing the case as a personnel issue and thus confidential.
Parents of current and former Northwest boys basketball players told the Eagle their sons had experienced intimidation and threats by Caldwell.
Caldwell, who works on the grounds crew at Northwest, did not return two messages Thursday. He is a former indoor football coach who coached the Aviators and Wild teams in the mid-2000s.
Northwest coach Chris Collins has not been accused of bullying, and he said he has not seen any such actions.
Collins said four Northwest players have quit this season, including juniors Logan Miller and Cortlin Standifer, who transferred to Maize in the past week. Ky-Sean Johnson currently plays at Maize after leaving Northwest during last season, when his father, Tony, was Northwest’s freshman coach.
Eric Keith, the father of Northwest senior Brandon Keith, refused to allow his son to return to the team in December, shortly before the beginning of the winter break.
“(Caldwell) was demeaning (Brandon) before the team,” Eric Keith said. “They were in the team room together at lunch, and Caldwell walked up to my son and said, ‘What are you looking at?’ My son said nothing. Caldwell basically told him, ‘Say something smart so I can punch you.’
“My son came home that night, and my son is not very aggressive. He’s an outgoing kid, but he’s not aggressive at all. He’s never been in a fight, period.
“He came to me and started crying. ‘Dad, I don’t think I can go back. Something’s going to happen, and I feel like I’m going to hit him.’ Immediately I told him, ‘You can’t go back. I’m not going to let you even if you want to.’ ”
Collins, whose team is 4-9, said he has not seen instances of bullying.
“I have not ever seen one of my coaches ever bully a player, ever speak to them in a way that I felt was not correct in terms of instruction or anything of that nature,” Collins said. “I have not ever seen that in front of me. (The accusations concerning Caldwell feel) like a mob mentality (more) than actual facts. I’m saying this based on what I’ve seen. I haven’t seen any of my coaches or anyone associated with my program do anything in terms of what they’re being accused of.”
Denise Shuck, whose son Andrew Moncada played for Northwest, said she didn’t speak to the administration until after he graduated in 2012 because he feared retaliation.
“The kids are scared, and they’re scared to say anything, which made me speak up,” Shuck said.
David Miller, whose son, Logan, transferred this week, said, “If it was just basketball and my kid wasn’t playing as much as I’d like him to play, I’d have never left. It’s so much more than that. It’s bullying. It’s beyond that.”
Miller also laid blame on Collins, saying he could have stopped the problems long ago if he had listened to parents like him.
Of the nine parents of current or former players interviewed by The Eagle, six would not speak publicly. There was concern among those parents that there might be repercussions for speaking out, whether toward a current player or another child in the family.
Asked before the suspension how long the investigation has been going on, Deckinger said, “We’ve been looking into it as long as things have been brought to our attention. It just happened during this year that they have been brought to our attention. We’re just following up on concerns.”
Collins, who hired Caldwell as his assistant in his first season, 2008-09, said he had heard the accusation that Caldwell said he had beaten up a player.
“Now, I’ve never heard that said (by Caldwell), ever,” Collins said. “I’ve talked about that as well, that if I saw or heard someone saying that, that would get me going, trying to protect. It goes to people thinking I’m trying to cover something up. If there’s an issue, I want to address it and take care of it. I don’t want people thinking I sweep things under the rug or the school sweeps things under the rug.”
One player told his parents that Caldwell called him two derogatory names outside of practice while others said their sons chose not to come out for the team partly because of Caldwell.
Parents said they have met with administrators and Collins, but nothing has changed.
Keith said he tried to contact Collins to tell him Brandon wouldn’t return to the team. They still haven’t talked. Collins acknowledged he did not return phone calls or text messages from Keith in December.
Caldwell “brought up Ky-Sean every single day when someone would get out of line,” Keith said. “’You weren’t doing this right. Just transfer like Ky-Sean. You’re not strong enough to be here.’
“I didn’t really realize what an issue it was. I thought it was an isolated issue with my son. After talking to other parents, it seems like it’s been a culture there. I’ve said it’s Caldwell, it’s Caldwell, it’s Caldwell. But the buck has to stop with Collins.”
While at Northwest’s midseason tournament in Topeka on Jan. 23-25, Collins told his team he is resigning after the season.
“The speculation and accusations has nothing to do with this,” said Collins, 38. “To be honest with you, I don’t want to bring attention to myself. I’m just not that type of person. I don’t need to be in the spotlight. It’s about Northwest.”