Volleyball group that coach Rick Butler helped form says he’s welcome there

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Volleyball coach Rick Butler | Stacie Scott/Lincoln Journal Star

The head of a volleyball organization formed with the help of powerhouse Chicago-area coach Rick Butler says Butler is welcome there for now, despite his ban from USA Volleyball following sexual abuse allegations.

Jenny Hahn, executive director of the Wisconsin-based Junior Volleyball Association, said her group plans to follow the lead of the massive Amateur Athletic Union when it comes to Butler.

Butler has not been a member of the JVA, which he helped form, for more than a year, Hahn said. Still, she acknowledged he would be welcome to return.

Speaking to the Chicago Sun-Times on Friday following a recent meeting of her board of directors, Hahn said, “we have to look to the governing bodies.” When it was pointed out that USA Volleyball is the national governing body of the sport, Hahn noted that the AAU sanctions and insures JVA events.

“We’re kind of going to wait and see what they do on their end,” Hahn said.

Butler’s attorney declined to comment. Hahn noted that, “it’s just curious” that decades-old allegations against Butler are surfacing now and added, “it’s much more than what’s on the forefront.” She declined an opportunity to elaborate.

The AAU has a national policy to deny participation “to any individual for whom there is reasonable cause to believe that they have engaged in sexual misconduct.” But the AAU has so far refused to comment on the claims against Butler, citing pending litigation.

One of Butler’s accusers, Sarah Powers-Barnhard, sued the AAU for turning a blind eye to Butler’s past. A judge ordered that dispute into arbitration this week.

The AAU hosts part of its annual volleyball championship at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, according to its website. But Disney officials have also ignored the issue.

Meanwhile, the JVA’s deferral to the AAU comes in the wake of the scandal involving disgraced former sports doctor Larry Nassar, who was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for molesting young girls under the guise of medical treatment. He was accused of molesting Olympians and other young gymnasts while working for USA Gymnastics.

The allegations against Butler do not involve nearly as many individuals as the Nassar case, and Butler has never been charged with a crime. Still, the Nassar case has enhanced the scrutiny of sexual abuse allegations in youth athletics — even in the midst of a larger national conversation about sexual misconduct.

Meanwhile, a DuPage County judge has said, “the public should absolutely be aware” of the allegations against Butler.

USA Volleyball announced this month that it had banned Butler from its ranks “forever.” That ban applies only to Butler, not athletes who are members of the successful Aurora-based club he built, Sports Performance Volleyball.

Butler has called USA Volleyball’s hearing process a “sham” and refused to participate. His girls’ teams have not participated in USA Volleyball since 2007. His wife said he even let his membership in USA Volleyball lapse in October, ahead of the ban.

The successful coach was previously banned from USA Volleyball in 1995 after Powers-Barnhard, Julie Romias and Christine Tuzi alleged he sexually abused them in the 1980s while he was their coach and they were under 18.

Though he said he has “never sexually abused any individual,” he has conceded he had sex with Powers-Barnhard, Romias and Tuzi. He said that happened after they were no longer minors and no longer on his team.

USA Volleyball partially rescinded its first ban in 2000. However, the organization filed a new complaint against him in December 2016 based, in part, on allegations by Beth Rose. She alleged that Butler sexually abused her in 1983, when she was 16, while he was sharing an apartment with her mother.

That complaint also noted a fifth alleged sexual abuse victim had “elected to remain silent.” And it identified a woman — who asked that her name not be published — who claimed Butler made inappropriate comments toward her when she was a player on his team. She has declined to comment.

Contributing: AP

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