by Irvin Muchnick
In the last week and a half, Concussion Inc.’s reporting on new turmoil in the Tampa Bay Area swimming scene has dovetailed with our more than year-long untangling of the grooming and abuse in the 1980s of Sarah Ehekircher, a native Colorado swimmer and coach, by her coach, Scott MacFarland.
New installments of the Ehekircher story had been on hold in the wake of an ugly turn earlier this year, which the criminal justice system is just beginning to sort out. I expect to be reporting further on that soon.
In a nutshell, where we left things was that Ehekircher’s appeal to the U.S. Center for SafeSport to revisit her 2010 USA Swimming complaint against MacFarland fell on deaf ears. Nonetheless, and in a humanitarian act I reward with a measure of strangled credit, USA Swimming did begin underwriting tens of thousands of dollars of costs for treatment of Ehekircher’s many years of post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result of the damage MacFarland did to her. MacFarland himself is now “retired” but not banned.
What does all this have to do with Tampa?
It turns out that Todd Hoffmeier, owner and head coach of the Greater Tampa Swim Association, is the brother of a woman named Tanya Birch, who also swam under Scott MacFarland years ago in Arizona. (More later on the reasons MacFarland often found himself coaching in Arizona.)
Hoffmeier is currently in litigation against his former partner, fellow Tampa coach Ryan Gober, following their business breakup. Even as Hoffmeier’s new hire, Linck Bergen (son of coaching legend and ground zero sex abuser Paul Bergen), was getting arrested last month in Florida for possession of methamphetamines, allegations of sexual misconduct by Gober were being fielded by the University of Tampa, where Gober coaches the women’s swimming team.
But some of those complaints, according to Gober’s lawyer, came anonymously from the email “email@example.com.” All evidence suggests that firstname.lastname@example.org is a camouflage “burner” account of Tanya Birch — Hoffmeier’s sister. This is my own finding, not that of Gober or lawyer Nathan McCoy. I reached out to both Birch and Hoffmeier. Neither responded.
I, too, was on the receiving end of email from email@example.com, more than a year ago. The sender called herself “Susan Brown” and she represented herself as a Colorado swim parent who was disgusted by my championing of Ehekircher’s campaign both for justice for herself in MacFarland’s abuse of her and for transparency in swimming’s truth and reconciliation for a legacy of cover-ups of widespread coach abuse — led by the late USA Swimming chief executive Chuck Wielgus and other top officials.
At this moment, and in the wake of the USA Gymnastics scandals, USA Swimming’s systematic abuse and shady insurance practices, including through an offshore subsidiary in Barbados, are the focus of multiple federal government probes. The most notable is a grand jury impaneled in the Southern District of New York.
Last year, with the shaky literacy found throughout her message to me, “Susan Brown” asserted that “there isn’t many in USA Swimming that feels any sympathy for” Ehekircher, “a middle aged woman now 30 yrs later acting like a scorned woman intent on destroying her former coach. If you ask around USA swimming, Ehekircher doesn’t have many friends or even people who respect her. You will find many people who have seen how evil and vicious. [sic]”
“Brown” advised me to direct my attention to Ehekircher’s own alleged abusive behavior at Rocky Mountain Thunder in suburban Denver, where she was then coaching. A relentless smear campaign by Tanya Birch, aka Susan Brown, decimated the membership of Ehekircher’s team and forced her to move.
In the coming weeks and months — and propelled by this new connection of Ehekircher tormentor Birch / “Brown” — Concussion Inc. will proceed to document how Scott MacFarland, over the course of three decades, has been part of an elite coaching tree involved in the movements of abused girl swimmers across state lines and swim club platforms. Ehekircher’s full story — first told in her 2010 SafeSport complaint to USA Swimming, and suppressed then, just as it is being suppressed now — points to some of the sport’s most iconic names and programs.