UW-Madison, Marquette decide not to play at Rick Butler’s volleyball facility

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Volleyball coach Rick Butler | Stacie Scott/Lincoln Journal Star

Some athletic officials are beginning to steer clear of the Aurora facility run by powerhouse youth volleyball coach Rick Butler in the wake of sexual abuse allegations, even though other key organizations are waiting to act.

Among those abandoning Butler’s Great Lakes Center — home to Sports Performance Volleyball — are University of Wisconsin-Madison and Marquette University. The schools had planned an exhibition volleyball match there in April.

A Marquette official said the match would take place in Madison, instead. Brian Lucas, director of athletic communications for the University of Wisconsin, provided a statement from Wisconsin Athletics that said the move was tied to a recent decision by USA Volleyball to ban Butler from its organization.

“UW-Madison is aware of the recent action taken against the club’s operator by USA Volleyball,” the statement read. “We believe the focus of the match should be on the players involved and we felt that would not have been the case had we played the match at the Great Lakes Volleyball Center.”

USA Badminton also recently announced that, “due to unforeseen circumstances,” a tournament planned at Great Lakes in June would take place in Milwaukee instead. Cort Carlson, executive director of the Aurora Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, said he learned about the move in December.

“It think it’s just in light of the overall situation and the environment in youth sports right now,” Carlson said.

Though Carlson said his organization pitched Butler’s facility to USA Badminton, he said it’s not clear whether the facility will be promoted for future events.

“We’re not taking a direct opinion either way,” Carlson said. “There is give and take on both sides.”

Butler declined to comment through his attorney, Terry Ekl.

Last week, the head 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. JVA Executive Director Jenny Hahn said that, even though Butler is no longer a member, he is welcome there for now.

Butler helped form the JVA.

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 allegedly turning a blind eye to Butler’s past.

USA Volleyball announced Jan. 10 that it had banned Butler from its ranks “forever.” That ban applies only to Butler, not athletes who are members of Sports Performance Volleyball.

Butler has called USA Volleyball’s hearing process a “sham” and refused to take part in it. His girls’ teams have not participated in USA Volleyball since 2007.

USA Volleyball banned Butler once before, 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.

Butler says he has “never sexually abused any individual,” but 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.

The coach has never been charged with a crime, though his accusers say the relevant statutes of limitation had expired before they came forward.

USA Volleyball partially rescinded its first ban in 2000. The organization filed a new complaint in December 2016 based, in part, on allegations by another woman, 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 to the Sun-Times.

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