2021 | Police & Fire

Whitman crew team suspends fall program following coach’s sexual abuse arrest

First complaint against Shipley made in 2018

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The Whitman crew team has suspended its fall operations following the arrest of one of its coaches, Kirkland Shipley, on allegations that he sexually abused former athletes whom he also taught at Walt Whitman High School.

Shipley was charged with first- and second-degree child sexual abuse of a secondary education student, stemming from his alleged sexual abuse of female students at Whitman in 2013 and 2018.

In a letter to families on Tuesday, the Whitman crew team announced that it has suspended the fall program to focus “on providing resources to our athletes, healing our community, and cooperating with the investigation.”

The letter said the crew team’s board of directors first became aware of “a rumor of a sexual relationship between Shipley and a former crew member” in July 2018.

The letter said the allegation had been reported to Montgomery County Public Schools and Child Protective Services.

MCPS spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.

The crew team board of directors reported the allegation to SafeSport, a nonprofit that addresses sexual assault in sports, which led an investigation, according to the letter.

“Neither MCPS, SafeSport, nor Montgomery County child protective services reported any findings of sexual or physical misconduct to us,” the letter said.

In June of this year, the board of directors “received disconcerting feedback regarding Shipley during our annual survey,” but “none of the issues raised allegations of sexual or physical misconduct.”

Shipley was suspended while an investigator reviewed the program. The investigator said, “There have been no allegations (or findings) of any physical or sexual misconduct on the part of Coach Shipley or anyone else involved with the program,” according to the board’s letter this week.

A week before Shipley was arrested, the board of directors was notified that SafeSport had opened a new investigation into the coach. SafeSport said it had received a complaint about Shipley, but did not elaborate. The company said he was still eligible to coach and the team was “prohibited from taking action as a result of learning about their investigation,” the letter said.

When Shipley was arrested, the team “immediately severed all ties with him.”

“We want to apologize to those who bravely came forward to raise concerns and who feel like those concerns were not heard,” the board wrote. “The health and safety of our kids is and always has been our primary concern. As fellow parents, we acknowledge the anguish, turmoil, and pain that this brings to our student athletes.”

Board Vice President Dave Charlton did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday night.

A letter sent by Whitman High School Principal Robert Dodd last week said Shipley had coached the crew team — which is a club team not affiliated with the school — since 2002. He had been a teacher at Whitman since 2001.

A 2016 Whitman crew publication listed him as head coach and women’s varsity coach.

According to court records, the victim who reported that she was abused in 2018 filed a complaint with D.C. police this month, alleging she and Shipley had several sexual interactions when she was a student at the Bethesda school.

The victim and Shipley, then 44, began talking and texting frequently when the victim was a sophomore in high school, but no sexual contact occurred until her senior year.

The two first spent time alone together later in May 2018. The victim was 18, but still a student.

The two kissed in Shipley’s car, according to court documents.

Over the next several weeks, the pair met on other occasions, during which they allegedly performed oral sex on each other.

After police interviewed the first victim, a second victim claimed she had a sexual relationship with Shipley that began in June 2013, when she was 17 years old, but had graduated high school. Shipley was 39 at the time.

The victim said the relationship spanned from the summer after her senior year of high school until her junior year of college.

Prior to turning 18, the victim said, Shipley suggested she send him explicit photographs, and she complied. He “appreciated when she sent them” so she continued, according to court records.

Before turning 18 in November, the victim sent about 75 photos and videos to Shipley, police said.

A felony status conference is scheduled for Sept. 15, according to D.C. court records.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com