Sexual assault charges against longtime Winnipeg coach ‘devastating’ to football community

It’s been a shocking 24 hours for Winnipeg’s football community following Wednesday’s announcement of sexual assault charges against a longtime high school football coach.

Winnipeg police say Kelsey McKay, 51, was charged with 14 crimes, including sexual assault, exploitation, interference and luring.

Five former students have come forward about the sexual assaults, which are alleged to have happened between 2004 and 2011 while the then-teen students played football at Churchill High School and Vincent Massey Collegiate.

Rick Henkewich, commissioner of the Winnipeg High School Football League, told 680 CJOB the news has been devastating, and said there needs to be a culture change to ensure that complainants feel safe bringing allegations of sexual assault forward.

“When you’re a student in that school and you make that accusation, what does it do to you?

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“Does it ostracize you? Does it open you up to other things? That’s the culture that needs to change — that fear that you might be ostracized, that you might be the guy they point a finger at,” he said.

Henkewich said young athletes need to know they can come forward without fear of losing playing time or other consequences.

“If we sit down with the athletes when they come in, and we have that parent-team meeting, they need to know that administration is available, that coaches are available.”

As part of his employment at schools, McKay would have gone through background checks, Henkewich said. But with no previous record of complaints against him, nothing was flagged.

“They all go through their background checks, and they all have to pay for those background checks. They go through every registry imaginable,” he said.

“No matter how we sift through the dirt, if there’s nothing there, it won’t show up.”

Read more: Winnipeg high school football coach charged in historical sex assaults

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Winnipeg high school football coach charged in historical sex assaults

Investigators say the coach forged relationships with the students and say the majority of the alleged assaults happened at the accused’s house.

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Greg Gilhooly says he was a victim of notorious sex offender Graham James, who preyed on young hockey players he coached. He told Global News the allegations are concerning but not surprising.

“Unfortunately, we should believe that absolutely everyone is capable of this, given the history of where predators come from.

“The thing about sports and the thing about school is that there is increased access to youth…. When you find out that a football coach is a teacher, that shouldn’t be surprising.

“It’s all about accessing an environment where you can take advantage of your power over somebody else, and in the world of sports, coaches and officials have incredible power over athletes who are just trying to make their mark.”

Gilhooly said teens are growing up and trying to find their place in the world, and all they want is to fit in. A sly adult, he said, can take advantage of that very easily and manipulate a young person.

“Sexual assault in these situations isn’t about the act of sex, it’s about control and ownership of the victim.

“Graham is and was back in the day a small and relatively insignificant physical specimen, but he was a relative god in the hockey community. It sounds like this gentleman was a relative god in the football community.

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“It’s about the control that the predator takes over the victim.”

McKay was still employed as a teacher with the Pembina Trails School Division at the time of his arrest. He has been released with conditions and is currently suspended without pay.

— with files from Shane Gibson

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