NAPOLEON — It was an emotional day of testimony Tuesday as the jury heard from several student-athletes about actions of a former coach who made them feel uncomfortable.
The trial of Randy Burke, 56, of Hamler, entered its second day in Henry County Common Pleas Court. Burke faces several charges of gross sexual imposition and sexual imposition involving girls who were mostly freshmen and sophomores in 2018.
Several of the witnesses broke into tears as they told the jury of incidents in which they felt Burke, as their cross country or track coach, touched them inappropriately and made inappropriate comments.
These alleged incidents include Burke pulling on one girl’s cross country shorts during picture day in 2018 by reaching inside the shorts and pulling on the inner liner. The alleged victim was a freshman at the time.
The shorts were pulled hard enough to reveal the top part of the girl’s actual underwear. This was done with the rest of the team, both boys and girls, as well as other coaches, nearby.
“I did say no,” the girl said on the stand.
Another alleged incident occurred in the weight room when one cross country athlete, who was a sophomore at the time, testified that Burke rubbed her stomach while she was bench pressing weights. Several of the other athletes testified they witnessed the incident.
Burke’s defense attorney, Scott Coons, asked whether Burke was showing the girl the proper way to bench press, because she was arching her back. Most of them said they didn’t remember her arching her back, including the athlete involved.
Another alleged incident occurred in the school pool where the cross country runners would train to build stamina. Several of the girls testified that Burke broke them into groups of two girls and one boy, then stated something similar to “This is every boy’s dream.”
“It felt weird,” one of the girls, who was a sophomore at the time, testified. “Like we were there for the guys’ entertainment.”
Another cross country runner testified that when she was a freshman, she and another runner were getting out of the pool and Burke grabbed her by the leg and arm and said he was going to throw her into the pool.
“I felt awkward and creeped out,” she testified.
She also said Burke referred to her as “cutie” and “sweetie pie” during the season.
Many of the witnesses testified to Burke also giving long hugs to them with his arms wrapped around their shoulders, pulling them in close, and that the hugs were unwanted. They also testified that he would give the female athletes high-fives in which he would hold onto their hands for several seconds.
They testified this was not the case with the athletes on the boys team.
Entered into evidence was a series of photos taken by the father of one girl in 2016 prior to the start of a meet. The photo showed Burke giving the athlete a hug from behind with his arms wrapped around her front and under her armpits, with his head laying in her neck area.
She described this as a typical hug Burke would give.
A later photo in the series showed his hand possibly on her hip or buttocks.
She testified she didn’t say anything because she felt doing so would cause her to lose some friendships with others on the team and hurt her chances to run at the college level.
One witness broke down in tears relating a story from her freshman year when she was in the weight room and said Burke told her he would leave his wife for her.
“I knew it was just a joke, but a coach shouldn’t have said something like that,” she said.
Two witnesses testified who were not on the cross country team, but were in Burke’s gym class. One of them said as the class was preparing for the one-mile fitness run that Burke told them it would not be his fault if he had to touch them inappropriately if they passed out. She added he said he preferred pink, red or watermelon lip balm if he had to perform CPR on them.
That student is no longer attending Napoleon Schools.
Another student said she had Burke for gym in 2016, her freshman year. She said there were only five girls in the gym class and Burke made them do jumping jacks by themselves while the boys in the class watched.
Many of the witnesses testified they did not see such action between Burke and the members of the boys team.
Of the girls who brought concerns to Napoleon High School Athletics Director Andy Ham, all testified that after Burke was suspended by the school during an investigation that the members of the boys team were “rude” or mean to them. Many of them said the boys team would end their practice with a team cheer of “Bring Back Burke” or “Save Burke” or just “Burke.”
None of the girls who approached Ham about concerns with Burke said they wanted the coach fired, though under cross examination many of them admitted they stated they would not return to the team if he remained in charge.
During cross examinations, Coons often asked the witnesses if the actions were done in public, in front of others. All agreed they were.
The prosecution’s final witness of the day was Tina Gibson, an investigator with children’s services.
She testified the case came to her through Napoleon Area Schools. Gibson also stated the department does not necessarily pursue an investigation for every incident brought to it, but with Burke being a teacher and a coach this one was.
She testified she talked to Burke, with his attorney present, and asked about the incident in which Burke referred to the comment he made in the pool about two girls and a guy. She said Burke attributed the comment to another male and he simply was restating it.
She also testified that Burke denied making a joke of throwing a female athlete into the pool and that Burke said he did not touch the girls in any inappropriate way, and that he probably puts his arms around the boys more than the girls.
Gibson said Burke explained the situation of touching one girl on the stomach while she was bench pressing was because she was doing the exercise wrong and he was showing her the right way.