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This story was updated at 9:40 a.m. on Sept. 12, 2022, to include additional information

A former crew coach and teacher at Bethesda’s Walt Whitman High School was sentenced Friday to three years in prison on sex-related charges involving teen rowers he coached.

Kirk Shipley, now 48, of Northwest Washington, D.C., was charged in August 2021 with first and second-degree child sexual abuse of a secondary education student in connection with charges that he had sexual interactions with rowers ages 17 and 18 at the time, according to authorities.

In June, Shipley pleaded guilty to one count each of first-degree sex abuse of a secondary education student, and possession of a sexual performance by a minor.

D.C. police have said Shipley had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl in the summer of 2013, just after she had graduated from Whitman. The student, a rower with the Whitman Crew club, a parent-run organization, was also in Shipley’s history class when she was a junior, she told police. Shipley had been her head coach since her sophomore year, according to authorities.

Shipley invited the 17-year-old to his home in the district and had sex with her one month after she graduated, police have said. Their relationship continued into the fall of 2013 after the victim had started college, according to prosecutors.

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The second victim, who was on the crew team from 2014 to 2018, got to know Shipley when he became the head coach her sophomore year, and he was also her history and geography teacher, according to prosecutors.

The victim, who was 18 at the time, exchanged thousands of text messages with Shipley from February 2018 until her graduation four months later, authorities have said. Starting in May 2018, Shipley would pick up the victim and drive her to his home where he would sexually abuse her, according to prosecutors.

During Friday’s hearing, a woman who appeared virtually and identified herself as “community representative,” said Shipley’s behavior toward the two victims is just a sample of many interactions he’s had with young women over two decades.

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“Kirk Shipley is a predator who has abused his position of authority as a teacher and a coach to take advantage of his students and rowers, throughout a tenure spanning over 20 years,” she said.

The representative said there is a private Facebook group with more than 300 members that he coached either directly or indirectly. Some members, she said, didn’t attend Whitman but met Shipley through Thompson Boat Center in D.C., where he also coached. The Facebook group, she said, only represents a fraction of those Shipley hurt because it doesn’t include their family or friends.

The community representative said Shipley groomed the young women, often by telling off-color and self-deprecating jokes, showing favoritism toward some students and creating a false sense of security. No one wanted to criticize Shipley because it could have negative repercussions, such as jeopardizing a student’s considerations with a college rowing team.

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“Speaking out against Kirk invited a target on your back,” she said.

The representative thanked the two victims for coming forward, and said it means “this cancer of 20 years has now been removed.”

“You have contributed nothing to our success or accomplishments,” she said, addressing Shipley. “The success that we have realized both on and off the water is not because of you, but in spite of you. You are a cancer, and always have been, sitting heavy and in the way of our progress.”

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Matthew Ornstein, an attorney representing the victims, read impact statements on behalf of the two victims. One of the victims said in her statement that Shipley “made her feel good” by speaking to her as a peer, rather than as a student. He would drive her to practice during her free period, and they would go to Starbucks and on runs together.

“I just thought Shipley and I were close. That I was genuinely lucky to be friends with him,” she said in her statement.

The victim said she feels nauseous as she reflects on going to Shipley’s apartment to be alone with him, and realizes she was groomed slowly, so that she wouldn’t notice she was being taken advantage of. Later, another victim contacted her about Shipley and said she had had a similar experience.

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“It was gutting to realize that Shipley had done this to others,” the victim said in the statement.

Shipley later addressed the court, saying he wants “the opportunity to repair at least a small part of what I’ve done.” He apologized for his behavior toward the victim he was charged with sexually abusing in 2018.

“What I did was very wrong. I know this. I knew it the moment that it happened in 2018. And I’ve regretted it since that day,” he said.

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Shipley also apologized generally to both victims, and to the crew team for “sullying the reputation of the program that we worked so hard to build.”

Shipley said news reports of his arrest have contained “misinformation” and have falsely portrayed him as a predator. It’s caused him to lose a food delivery job he had, and for his friends and co-workers to be “blackballed” because of their association with him, he said.

“I am a good person. I made a terrible decision, a very grave mistake that has cost two young women, our community and myself dearly,” he said.

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An outside consultant conducted a “culture review” of the women’s crew team in June 2021 after seven rowers complained about Shipley and the board of directors received “disconcerting feedback” about him, Dave Charlton, formerly the board president, has said previously. The board has said those complaints did not involved allegations of sexual misconduct.

The board suspended Shipley in the summer of 2021 during the culture review, but then rehired him for the fall season. Eight days after being rehired, Shipley was arrested by D.C. police, and he was then fired by the club.

On Friday, current Whitman Crew Board President Albert Lee said in a statement that the team fully cooperated with the prosecution of Shipley and their thoughts are with the victims.

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“While today’s result does not negate the damage that Shipley has done, we hope that it can serve as an important step in bringing some closure to our current and former rowers,” he said in the statement. “Our priority at Walt Whitman Crew is the well-being and safety of our student athletes and we will continue to make resources available to current or former rowers as they process Shipley’s sentencing.” 

On Friday, Superior Court Judge Maribeth Raffinan sentenced Shipley to 36 months in prison, with 12 months suspended on the sex abuse charge, and 24 months with 12 suspended on the charge of possession of a sexual performance by a minor. The sentence terms will run consecutively, she said.

Prior to sentencing Shipley, Raffinan said she believes Shipley has accepted responsibility, but doesn’t think his statement demonstrates a “full acceptance” for his actions.

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“At times I find [his statements] puzzling, and I’m uncertain about where he is in the process. But I think the fairest characterization is that he has certainly wavered in his acceptance of responsibility to these offenses,” she said.

Raffinan noted that even though Shipley has only been charged with two crimes, it’s clear he abused his position of authority and groomed many other young women not involved in the case.

“He was their teacher. He was their coach … these women looked up to him,” she said.

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As part of his punishment, Shipley also received two years probation and will be required to register as a lifetime sex offender.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com