by Irvin Muchnick
Last week, in introducing the excellent takedown of legendary swimming coach Dick Shoulberg by coach-blogger Chris DeSantis, I mentioned that my own explorations of the Olympic sports abuse stories, going forward, would necessarily be selective and episodic.
a) there’s too much going on for a lone independent journalist to cover;
b) mainstream outlets are better resourced to handle the comprehensive pile-ons of wide-angle lens scandals such as the criminal prosecutions of USA Gymnastics leaders and the restructuring of national sports governing body and U.S. Olympic Committee leadership; and
c) most of the emphasis elsewhere is, in any case, more directed toward the labor-vs.- management rights of Olympic athletes than to my own orientation — which is the societal-cultural pathologies of the relationships between sports coaches and their youth charges at all ages and levels, college scholarship and Olympic aspirations be damned.
One of my continuing threads will surely be disgraced former Olympic swim team head coach Mark Schubert. While never the target of direct abuse allegations, Schubert has been, for a generation, a central figure in the big story’s themes of enabling and denying abuse. Dia Rianda, a former Schubert coaching assistant at the Golden West club in Huntington Beach, California — and a major benefactor of the USA Swimming Foundation — successfully sued him for wrongful termination after she blew the whistle on coaches and acts in his program.
Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the Rianda lawsuit, which Schubert settled, was the documentation during the discovery phase of the coach’s machinations around the irregularities of swimming’s professional high performance center in Fullerton, California. One of Schubert’s rival coaches, Sean Hutchison, got the nod to direct the Fullerton center, and Schubert hired a private investigator to snoop on Hutchison’s widely known inappropriate relationship with his swimmer Ariana Kukors, which dated back to when she was underage. In 2010, at the very beginning of USA Swimming’s phony “SafeSport program” era, Schubert leaked the information to the Washington Post, but it took until this year’s round of scandal coverage to get to the full truth — including the fact that the sport’s own vaunted chief SafeSport cop, Susan Woessner, had also slept with Hutchison.
The Rianda-Schubert lawsuit also cracked open the door of how Schubert and USA Swimming damaged the career and life of prodigy swimmer Dagny Knutson by steering her away from college and toward a professional career that began and ended with her participation in Hutchison’s performance center in Fullerton. There, Knutson witnessed multifarious nefariousness, developed or worsened an eating disorder, and put her supporting family in a financial hole. One of the upshots was that Knutson got the California bar to sanction USA Swimming lawyer Richard Foster, who unethically and with conflicted interest had counseled Knutson’s catastrophically bad choices. (Both Knutson and Rianda were represented by attorney Bob Allard.)
As unable as every bad-guy coach over the years to quit while he was behind, Schubert — who had taken a high-six-figures USA Swimming contract buyout prior to the Rianda lawsuit — continues to lurk on social media, denying all and plotting his comeback. He is back as an assistant at his old stomping grounds, Mission Viejo Nadadores, headquarters of an historic abuse ring with a “coaching tree” of villains who fanned out across the country. These include Scott MacFarland, groomer-abuser-tormentor of Sarah Ehekircher, whose persistent complaints to USA Swimming and the U.S. Center for SafeSport we have been championing in this space for close to a year.
Now, via Dia Rianda, comes an update on the story here in July, about the cancellation of Schubert’s appearance at the International Swimming Coaches Hall of Fame Summit. This followed an alert by Ehekircher to another conference participant, the Monique Burr Foundation for Children, of Schubert’s sordid history. The Burr Foundation group pulled out, and ISCA chief Doug Fonder, while not acknowledging a string of allegations against Schubert, wrote him out of the Hall of Fame Summit speaker list with the explanation that he was going to be out of town that day.
But there’s more, Rianda told us at the time, and more recently expanded on.
“Doug Fonder, someone I did not even know personally, called me after Schubert fired me [at Golden West],” Rianda said. “He pumped me for information or tried to. His calls were almost obnoxious in frequency. He would vent about John Leonard [head of the American Swimming Coaches Association]. He wanted to form ISCA and asked me to be on the board. I did go to the very first board meeting at the convention.”
Odds things happened in Rianda’s brief ISCA experience, at a 2013 conference in Clearwater, Florida. She said Fonder and other ISCA luminaries of the time, including prominent coaches Eddie Reese and Randy Reese, “were talking about Deena Deardurff Schmidt and what a psycho she was.”
Deardurff Schmidt is the 1972 Olympic gold medal swimmer whose well-corroborated stories of her molestations by her Cincinnati club coach, Paul Bergen, which first aired on national television in 2010, and in combination with the late USA Swimming CEO Chuck Wielgus’s inept and defiant responses, became the impetus of the whole SafeSport initiative.
“I wasn’t directly involved in the conversation but I heard it from a seating area nearby. I was shocked with the conversation and the words that came out of Doug Fonder’s mouth.
“The next day I knew I had been had and seriously manipulated. When I walked into the meeting room area just off to the right was a dolphin display with brochures that had Mark Schubert and Reese prominently displayed together.
“Then after one of the meetings all of the guys were off to Hooters and strip bar. Doug Fonder said, ‘Tonight we’re going to a place that you won’t want to go.’
“A few weeks after the convention Doug Fonder called me and said, ‘You need to come up with $25,000 to remain on the ISCA board so we can fund a secretarial position.This will be your contribution as a board member.’ I politely responded I’m not interested in donating that kind of money. The next year without receiving any meeting minutes are being invited to any meetings, I found out that I had been replaced on the board — by Mark Schubert.”.
Fonder did not respond to a request for comment for this story. I also did not hear back on a query sent to Eddie Reese through the sports communications office at the University of Texas, where he is the swimming coach.
Randy Reese, head of the Clearwater Aquatic Team, told me he did not recall being part of the conversation related by Rianda. But the main point Reese wanted to emphasize is that he was no longer associated with ISCA and Fonder; Reese accused Fonder of pilfering funds from ISCA meets, and shared a complaint on this matter filed last year with USA Swimming.
Finally, Randy Reese said, Mark Schubert lied to him in claiming that he, too, was no longer involved with ISCA. In fact, Schubert sits on the ISCA board of directors and co-promotes meets with Fonder, in addition to being on the ASCA executive committee. So much for ISCA being an alternative to ASCA — in business or sexual abuse matters.