Spokane school officials have suspended Ferris High School football coach Jim Sharkey as they investigate claims he exposed himself to players at a leadership camp last summer and then lied to cover it up.
Sharkey, who also teaches fitness and leadership at the school, strongly denies the allegations. His suspension is with pay.
The camp last August was hosted and attended by Bobby Brett on about 1,000 acres he and his family own along the Coeur d’Alene River near Cataldo, Idaho.
A couple of weeks after the camp, a Ferris player came forward and said that while Sharkey was grilling, he turned with his exposed penis inside a hot dog bun. Sharkey said, “You think that is a big dog – take a look at this,” according to school records that listed multiple different versions of the same quote.
While the coach got a written reprimand and was allowed to coach this past fall, school officials placed him on administrative leave Feb. 1 after more players claimed to have seen the hot dog incident and other students brought up separate incidents of questionable behavior by the 11-year teacher and coach.
Sharkey, 50, and school officials have declined to talk about what happened at the camp as rumors circulated. School officials acknowledged the investigation Friday after releasing public documents requested by The Spokesman-Review.
Sharkey called the allegations false and denied in interviews and in writing to school officials that the hot dog incident took place. He vowed that he will fight to try to clear his name to protect what he considers his dream job.
“They have not given me a timeline,” said Sharkey, referring to the investigation. “But they have been specific that I can’t comment on anything until the investigation is done. When this is done, I’ll be happy to talk about my teaching and coaching affairs.”
Brett, who is the majority owner of the Spokane Indians and Spokane Chiefs, said he remembers hosting about 43 Ferris players last summer, including Sharkey and assistant coach Erick Cheadle. He said he never saw any inappropriate behavior.
“I’ve known Jim a long time. I know how he interacts with kids,” Brett said. “When I heard what was going on, I was shocked and surprised. There were several adults around. I can’t speak for everybody, but I did not see anything.”
According to mostly handwritten notes provided by Spokane Public Schools, Brett, his brother John “JB” Brett, JB Brett’s son and a ranch hand had already left the area where the hot dog incident took place.
The heavily redacted records mostly came from Mary Templeton, who is the district’s director of certified personnel. They indicate that Templeton and Ferris Principal Ken Schutz questioned Sharkey about the hot dog incident on Aug. 31 after the first player came forward.
Sharkey explained that he had taken the players to Brett’s property, as he has for several years, as part of a leadership exercise. The kids camped in tents, swam in the river and worked to remove downed limbs on the property.
When Templeton read the allegation that Sharkey exposed himself, her notes indicate that Sharkey called it “a complete lie” and “absolutely false.”
Sharkey also denied that he and Cheadle, the assistant coach, were drinking at the camp. But he did say the players saw other adults, including the Bretts, who were drinking at one of the dinners.
Asked by Templeton why someone would make the allegations, Sharkey replied: “Maybe they want me fired.”
In her written finding on Sept. 13, Templeton wrote that she was “unable to substantiate” the allegations that he had been drinking or exposed himself to students.
“The District was, however, able to substantiate by your own admission, that there was alcohol consumed in front of students by the camp ‘hosts’ and that at least one camp ‘host’ had unsupervised access to students while under the influence of alcohol,” Templeton wrote.
As a result, she issued Sharkey a written warning.
Sharkey was then allowed to coach the Ferris Saxons, who finished 5-5 this past football season. But after the campaign, the allegations came roaring back – and a few more were added.
The records show more students came forward to say they witnessed the hot dog incident. A girl also complained that Sharkey called her a “puck slut” or “puck bunny,” because she was friends with Spokane Chiefs hockey players, most of whom attend Ferris.
Another football player also alleged that he knew of “four or five” times that players would gang up and dog pile a player on his birthday and they would shove their fingers up the player’s anus, something the players called “juicing.” The player also made it clear that no coaches or adults were around during those incidents.
The names of the players and parents who lodged the complaints were redacted. Efforts to reach players’ parents and assistant coach Cheadle for this story were unsuccessful.
Armed with this new information, Templeton called Sharkey in for a “name clearing” meeting on Jan. 31.
Sharkey agreed that he had said many of the alleged comments, including calling one student a “dipshit.” He also confirmed that he shopped for U2 concert tickets on his computer during class.
Templeton noted that Sharkey laughed when asked if he called a girl a “puck bunny.” But Sharkey said Friday he didn’t laugh, but instead was exasperated. In the notes, Sharkey said the comment was “not meant to be inappropriate.”
“I think some of this stuff is taken out of context, but I did say these things,” Sharkey said.
But Templeton wrote that she believed Sharkey was not being truthful about the hot dog incident.
“I asked you before if you had exposed yourself at camp and you told me you did not,” she wrote. “Now I am hearing from several students that you did, indeed, expose yourself.”
Sharkey noted that question was previously asked and answered in the Aug. 31 meeting.
“You already investigated that, and I signed a paper,” he said. “How many students said I exposed myself?”
Templeton replied: “Several.”
“Oh come on, how many?” Sharkey asked. Templeton later answered: “I have three students reporting you did.”
As for the allegation of players “juicing” other players on their birthdays, Sharkey denied that as well.
“I would not allow this. No way,” according to the notes. “You better have dates and times of the juicing – if you say 10-15 times – you just better be able to tell me exactly when, who.”
But Templeton was not convinced.
“I am concerned enough about what I am hearing that I am going to place you on administrative leave with pay,” she wrote.
Sharkey vowed to fight the allegations.
“This is a witch hunt,” Sharkey said in the notes. “I do a lot for this school. It is going to be difficult to replace me at this time.
“This is my life – this is all I do.”