RINGLING, Okla. (KFOR)- As allegations of abuse circle Ringling High School, two employees say they’re now being retaliated against for supporting the alleged victims of former Principal and head football coach, Philip Koons.
Joe Wilkerson is a Ringling High School Resource Officer and has been for the last two and half years.
“I really enjoyed the teachers and the students especially. We’ve got an incredible group of kids,” said Wilkerson.
The last few months have been a nightmare for Wilkerson though.
He told KFOR the school district asked him to investigate claims of a Ringling High School student/football player making threats against other students, teachers and coaching staff in the midst of last semester.
“I spoke with the young man the next day, I believe, or it might have been the same day,” said Wilkerson. “His biggest question to me was ‘How did I get here?’ I mean, he was confused. He was scared. He was the first one that stood up against Coach. And it was frightening for him and his family. You know, the coach has a scary reputation.”
Wilkerson began interviewing other students and parents.
“I actually began to see a pattern that was nefarious, a pattern of protection and deflection. You say something bad about me, I’m going to crush you. And that’s what he would do. And the deeper I dug into it, the darker it got,” added Wilkerson.
He then said he brought the original reporting family to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office to file a report.
“I became a little bit of a pariah. There was a lot of nasty talk about me. I didn’t respond. I didn’t say anything other than, you know, time will tell,” said Wilkerson.
Then, it hit the fan for Wilkerson as various media outlets picked up the story.
He said Ringling Public Schools Superintendent, Kent Southward told him he was relieved of his duties and put on unpaid administrative leave.
Wilkerson asked why to which Supt. Southward allegedly told him it was because a complaint was filed against him.
That complaint wasn’t specified though, according to Wilkerson.
In the two and a half years Wilkerson has worked in this school district, he said he has never had an issue like this.
Since being put on administrative leave, Wilkerson said he has not received any updates on when he can come back to work.
“That makes me feel that they are very nervous,” stated Wilkerson.
Wilkerson told News 4 he’s not ashamed of supporting the victims and amplifying their voice.
In victim statements provided to News 4, several students alleged Koons would make them exercise naked.
For the purpose of keeping victim identities anonymous, News 4 will refer to them as “victim” followed by a number.
“[Koons] made everyone including myself do up downs ‘naked’ in the turf locker room. Some of the guys had burns on their private parts from it. That made me feel harassed, exposed, and ashamed,” said victim #1.
That same victim said Koons would call those living in the city “Ringling Inbred and Idiots.”
Koons would also allegedly call players, parents, and referees racial slurs including “n****r,” “stupid African,” and “porch monkey.”
“These events have occurred numerous times and have affected me both mentally and physically. I have had times when I was depressed and constantly feeling like I’m not good enough and like I’m a terrible person. I feel pressured and controlled when I’m in the field house or anywhere around the coaches. They have tried to intimidate kids in their office and in the locker room. These events have taken a tole on my life because I haven’t had a normal high school experience like other kids, and I have been forced to make the decision to leave the school I’ve been at for my entire life. When I was younger dealing with them gave me suicidal thoughts because I was so young, now that I’m older I realize I can stand up to them with no problem. I was always scared to say something because I didn’t want to suffer the consequences but now that’s not a problem and I’m not afraid to speak,” said victim #1.
Another victim wrote a very similar story in his statement.
“Phil Koons harassed us outside of school when we weren’t there even for a doctors appointment, birthday, and even unwell family members and would call the missing players p*****s and saying they know more than the player’s doctors,” Victim #2 wrote. “Phil Koons told us we were nothing and would never become anything in life.”
This victim noted Koons would regularly mention performing sexual acts with women, including fellow teachers.
“This was very nasty and made many of us feel awkward around the teachers after some of the things he had said about the teachers,” said victim #2. “Phil Koons has gotten in my face after I was defending other players from his abusive attitude and told me I better watch my back. I have also witnessed Phil Koons and Sterling Koons (Koons’ son) both bullying players for defending their friends against their bullying and verbal abuse and those kids would be made an example in front of the entire team which would then cause those players to be bullied by the rest of the team for that week or even longer and a few would be harassed by the coaches and called gay or having no balls or would be called a p***y.”
Victim #2 also claims Koons has openly talked about sexual acts involving “news reporters/camera people” who would report on their games and practices.
“These events have left a great toll of mental struggles I deal with on a daily basis. I have been dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts due to Phil Koons, Sterling Koons and Cooper Koons always cussing at me, degrading me, embarrassing me, and constantly making me feel like a failure and that I could never do anything right,” added victim #2.
Victim #3’s mother provided a statement on behalf of the situation.
She recalls the abuse first starting on September 16, 2021 when the family went out of town.
Koons was very enraged with victim #3 for missing practice, according to his mother.
Victim #3 allegedly received text messages from Koons saying he’d never play football again if he didn’t “bear crawl his a*s back” immediately.
After returning from their trip, victim #3’s mother said her son was forced into two hours of bear crawls.
He was then “cussed at, screamed at, pushed out physically of the locker room, but was also told by Coach Koons and Sterling Koons to go back where he belongs because kids his color don’t belong there.”
Victim #3 was then kicked off the team, according to his mother.
His mother tried asking Koons about the situation to which he allegedly called her son a “p***y a*s n****r.”
“I wish this was the end of it but honestly it was only the beginning. It was the beginning of living through hell,” she wrote.
A witness revealed watching a fellow classmate be abused by Koons.
She’s in 9th grade.
She said Koons would refer to that classmate as a f****t.
Koons allegedly threatened to suspend this witness for three days for a misunderstanding, according to her statement.
There are several people who have also come forward, claiming they were a victim of Koons’ decades ago.
One of the lawyers representing the alleged victims in this case, Tod Mercer told KFOR they are now representing eight to nine boys as of Thursday morning.
He is expecting that number to continue growing.
“It’s really heartbreaking. These boys are mainly juniors and seniors and they’re having their last years in high school kind of tarnished by this whole ordeal,” stated Mercer. “Now they’re being attacked by adults, friends. And it’s a bad situation. They’ve done the right thing. They’ve come forward and done the right thing. They’ve done what adults tell them to do. And then they wind up being attacked by other adults that support Koons and it’s an ugly situation.”
A current agriculture teacher at Ringling High School, Shilo Thompson said things have even got ugly for her.
She said many of the alleged victims are/were students of hers, so she created a safe environment where they felt compelled to let her know what was going on with Koons.
“They felt like they were being attacked, bullied, singled out and, you know, verbally abused, which then in return, you know, led to mental anguish and stuff like that,” stated Thompson.
Thompson shared she is a domestic violence victim, so when she was having those tough conversations with the boys, she said she could see the same fear in their eyes she once had.
“I couldn’t let it go. And it’s not something that I can just, you know, okay, well, it’ll get better, you know, that’s not how I felt when it all came about,” said Thompson.
As she was gathering as much information as she could, a private investigator was hired, according to Thompson.
Thompson then attended the Ringling Public Schools Board of Education meeting on February 13 where the board unanimously voted to renew Koons’ contract.
“I didn’t hide as far as stay outside and didn’t go in. I did go in and I stood with the kids,” said Thompson.
March 27 rolled around and she said she spoke with Supt. Southward that morning about students spray painting her classroom walls and writing “vulgar messages” into the dust on her car.
Thompson said she asked for help in identifying those students.
Rather than being given an update on those incidents that afternoon, Thompson said Supt. Southward told her “you’re done in May.”
“I wasn’t expecting it. I was really shocked and I didn’t know what to say,” she told KFOR on Thursday.
She said she went home that afternoon brokenhearted and unsure of what she did wrong.
Thompson said she asked Supt. Southward the following day what she did wrong, so she could make sure not to repeat her mistake at the next school.
“He said, ‘You didn’t do anything wrong. You just don’t fit in with us. You’re not fit for us down here,'” said Thompson. “I’ve been one of the only other ones that have been known to stand up with the kids. I felt 100% that that’s the reason why. I was against them. I didn’t agree with what they were doing. I didn’t agree with the things that they were letting and allowing to happen to the kids in the classroom or in the locker room and just the environment that was created down there. I didn’t agree with it.”
She recalled a statistic showing children only lie 2% of the time, so for her to standby and listen to the claims being made, she said she couldn’t just let it happen.
If given the opportunity to do it all over again, Thompson said she would in a heartbeat.
She has worked at Ringling High School for less than a year.
During Thompson’s interview with KFOR, a woman affiliated with the Ringling Public Schools Board of Education showed up and asked why she was being interviewed.
A victim’s mother who was present during the interview escorted her outside to which the woman allegedly harassed her and requested Thompson be removed from the interview.
Mercer said these interviews, this story is just the tip of the iceberg.
“[The victims] feel empowered to some extent because we have stood up for them and brought these claims. And so that empowers them to some extent. I have seen them kind of turn the corner from being more worried and concerned to being more positive about it and saying that they’re going to get through it and that they know they’ve done the right thing,” explained Mercer.
Mercer said while the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is wrapping up their investigation, they’re on the verge of filing their lawsuit.
“We’d like to give professional courtesy to the criminal part of it. Otherwise, we are still investigating. [OSBI] has submitted their report, as far as I know, the prosecution report to the D.A. So we were trying to wait on that, but they don’t work on our time frames and so we may wind up filing it before they get finished with their investigation if something doesn’t happen pretty quick,” stated Mercer.
Mercer is also continuing to call on State Superintendent Ryan Walters for back up.
“[Supt. Walters] needs to do that job instead of worrying about running for Governor or whatever the next position that he’s running for. To me and Cameron [Spradling], it looks like he’s still running for office, you know, and he’s already in. So we want him to get back to the business of the State Department of Education, which is for us, that means investigating these molestation cases and abuse claims,” said Mercer.
News 4 asked Supt. Walters after March 23’s State Board of Education meeting for an update on their part of the investigation.
He said they’re continuing to monitor the situation, but are taking a step back to let law enforcement handle it.
During the March 21 Ringling Public Schools Board of Education special meeting, board members moved to hire Rosenstein, Fist & Ringold as the district’s attorneys.
News 4 reached out to Supt. Southward’s office for comment on Thompson and Wilkerson’s employment status as well as an update on the situation.
News 4 was told Supt. Southward was “not available.”
Call back information was provided to the school district, but News 4 has yet to hear back.
News 4 also reached out to Koons’ attorney, but haven’t heard back from him either.