Affidavit tells of girl, coach growing closer

By Noel E. Oman

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

March 24, 2010

A former student at Abundant Life School told police a long-term relationship she had with Tim Ballard, a school coach and official, turned serious and culminated in a series of sexual acts during her final two years at the school and before she turned 18.

The statements from the girl, who graduated from Abundant Life, were contained in an affidavit supporting an arrest warrant on file in Sherwood District Court for Ballard, the assistant superintendent, high school principal and basketball coach at the Sherwood private school. Ballard was arrested by Sherwood police on Friday.

An innocent plea was entered Tuesday in District Court on behalf of Ballard to a charge of first-degree sexual assault. According to Arkansas Code Annotated 5-14-124 (a)(3), the charge can be brought against people who engage in "sexual intercourse or deviate sexual activity with another person who is less than [18] and is not the [suspect's] spouse and the [suspect] is: An employee in the victim's school or school district; a temporary caretaker; or a person in a position of trust or authority over the victim." Ballard's appearance before Sherwood District Judge Milas "Butch" Hale III was brief. Hale, who entered the plea for Ballard, bound his case over to Pulaski County Circuit Court. Ballard, 39, who remains free on a $50,000 bond, left the court without commenting, accompanied by family members and his attorney, Hubert Alexander of Jacksonville.

The appearance came as Pulaski County prosecutor Larry Jegley expressed concern that school authorities overlooked previous allegations against Ballard. School authorities told police that on at least two other occasions allegations of "inappropriate behavior" involving Ballard surfaced - in 1999 and in September 2009. The police report didn't detail the nature of those allegations.

"I'm more than a little bit concerned about whether it was adequately addressed or appropriately addressed over the years," Jegley said in comments he made before learning that Hale had imposed a gag order in the case.

Both Sherwood police and Jegley said the investigation into Ballard remains open.

"We've got a lot of ground to cover in the investigation," Jegley said.

According to the affidavit, Abundant Life Superintendent Russell Eudy and Keith Brickell, the senior pastor of Sylvan Hills First Baptist Church, told police that Ballard was placed on administrative leave on Feb. 24, three days after Eudy received an e-mail from a former student alleging that she and Ballard had engaged in sex acts.

Sylvan Hills First Baptist Church sponsors the school.

Brickell said Tuesday that he was meeting with the church's attorney and may be able to comment after that.

A police interview with the former student on March 15 formed the basis of the affidavit. The former student told officers Ballard began showing "her a lot of extra attention compared to the other students" shortly after she began attending the school and when she played sports. Ballard was her coach at the time.

She said that Ballard would "constantly compliment her on her looks and her ability as an athlete and that made her feel very special," according to the affidavit. "Ballard started telling her `You are the perfect female specimen' during her eighth-grade year." By the 10th grade, when she was 16, the former student said she began spending time with Ballard alone, "telling people it was for training purposes," the affidavit said. Midway through her junior year, "her relationship with Ballard got more serious" and by the end of her junior year, Ballard began touching her face "often, then kissing her face and eventually kissing her lips." The former student said that Ballard "once rubbed her butt while telling her `I've always wanted to do this.'" Meeting the girl before school so they could be alone, Ballard "would hold her and rub her butt and push his leg between her thighs to stimulate her," the affidavit said. During the summer between her junior and senior years, the two would meet at the school during the day or at night, when Ballard "would grope her breast, thighs and buttocks area while kissing her." By the beginning of her senior year, the former student said in the affidavit, Ballard's wife became suspicious of "all the phone calls and texts Ballard was making to [her] so Ballard was forced to stop coaching" her. In September of her senior year, when she was still 17, Ballard used his office telephone to call her to arrange a meeting. He also set up an e-mail address she could use to reach him instead of calling his mobile telephone.

In the meantime, they would meet "on the high school stage, empty hallways and in closets, places where they couldn't be seen or wouldn't get caught together during school hours," the affidavit said. During those meetings, Ballard would "grope and fondle her" and "kiss her [and] rub her breast and she would touch his penis through his pants." At least twice before she graduated, the former student said, she performed oral sex on Ballard.

Since Ballard's arrest, current and former students and their parents have been choosing sides over the popular coach on at least four Facebook pages set up to support Ballard or discuss his situation.

"Lets all keep this in mind [that] God is the only judge," one poster on the "Coach Tim Ballard Stories" Facebook page said. "Prayers for the family." Many lament the negative attention placed on the school.

William Woolverton, a former Abundant Life School Board president whose two college-age children graduated from the school, said Ballard's arrest surprised him.

"It's a small-knit group," he said in a telephone interview. "No one would've thought anything like that could've gone on there, or they wouldn't have sent their children to school there." Still, Woolverton stands by the school. "One rotten apple doesn't make 'em all bad." The Sherwood resident said his daughter is studying to be a schoolteacher and has expressed hope to teach at Abundant Life.

"If it ends up being true, it won't change my opinion of the school at all," Woolverton said. "I hope all of this gets resolved quickly so we can move on."