Friday, October 20, 2006

CO Springs Gazette: Academy allegations discussed

Academy allegations discussed

John Regni: Academy superintendent met with grad.

By JAKE SCHALLER THE GAZETTE

Mikey Weinstein, an Air Force Academy graduate who has sued the Air Force for religious intolerance, met with academy superintendent Lt. Gen. John F. Regni on Thursday afternoon to discuss the academy baseball team, which has been riddled with turnover during the past three years.

The Gazette reported Sunday that former players said baseball coach Mike Hutcheon had pushed his religious views or favored players with similar beliefs. Hutcheon denied the allegations and academy officials supported him. More on this topic
Earlier coverage:

Weinstein said the meeting with Regni was “positive and valuable.” Regni was unavailable to comment. Academy spokesman Johnny Whitaker said Regni described the meeting as “cordial” and “good.”

Weinstein, who was in town to promote his book, “With God on Our Side,” requested the meeting after reading the article in The Gazette.

Weinstein said he and Regni established a direct line of communication that did not previously exist. He added that Regni said he wanted to talk to individuals who report incidents to Weinstein and “wants to get to the bottom of” any alleged religious intolerance.

“I was prepared for a contentious, unpleasant, awkward meeting, and it was the antithesis of that,” Weinstein said. “There was an air of mutual respect in the meeting. They listened to everything I had to say, and I think they took it to heart. . . . Now we’ll have to see if they can walk the walk.”

Regni was joined in the meeting by an Air Force attorney, Col. Mike Rodgers, and Don Bird, who is a chemistry professor and faculty representative to the athletic department. Bird conducted the athletic department’s investigation of allegations, which were sent to the superintendent’s office in an anonymous letter, against Hutcheon.

Whitaker said that Regni told Weinstein that “our baseball program today is run within all the constitutional rules, all the Air Force rules regarding religion and religious respect, and Mr. Weinstein agreed with all that.”

Weinstein confirmed that. Weinstein, whose son is a cadet, said he spoke to one of his son’s friends who is a member of the baseball team. Based on that, Weinstein said as far as he knows the baseball team has been “in constitutional compliance, at least since April.” But he said he wanted to talk about “the things that happened in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

“I understand (Regni) wants to focus on things that are happening now, but to me, the past is prologue,” Weinstein said.

Weinstein said he thought Bird’s investigation was inadequate. Weinstein said Bird spoke passionately about his investigation and said that Bird did not attempt to cover up anything.

Weinstein said he felt the academy would investigate similar allegations more thoroughly in the future.

Weinstein said he and his lawyers still are considering filing a motion to amend the lawsuit to add some accounts from The Gazette’s article.

Meanwhile, another baseball player, senior Billy Adams, has been cut. According to Air Force sports information director Troy Garnhart, Hutcheon said he cut Adams two weeks ago at the end of fall practices. Adams, however, was still on the roster Thursday morning, but gone by Thursday evening. Garnhart said Hutcheon told him the decision was made because Adams was a senior who would play little. Garnhart said Hutcheon is trying to find a way to keep Adams involved in the program because he admired Adams’ commitment to the team.

In Sunday’s Gazette story, Adams - while still a team member - was asked about the departure of so many players and he said the team had finally “gotten rid of the cancer.” He also said in the interview that, “If there was a dividing line in the locker room, it was who’s going to shut up and play ball and accept what coach says or who’s going to run their mouth because we’re losing and bringing negativity.”

Garnhart said Adams declined comment Thursday.

CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0365 or jake.schaller@gazette.com

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