Ohio State hears from ex-band director’s backers

Julie Carr Smyth
Associated Press

Columbus, Ohio — Angry backers of Ohio State’s fired marching band director made a splashy showing at a trustee meeting Friday, playing their horns, wearing T-shirts supporting him and urging the board to keep discussions on the matter open.

Jonathan Waters was fired July 24 after a two-month university investigation concluded he turned a blind eye to a “sexualized culture” inside what’s considered one of the nation’s most innovative bands, including students marching in their underwear, playing groping games, doling out sometimes sexually explicit nicknames and singing from a lewd songbook.

Band parents, alumni and other supporters lined the boardroom on campus after serenading the meeting with songs familiar to what fans call The Best Damn Band in The Land. A pro-Waters banner was flown overhead.

Board Chairman Jeffrey Wadsworth allotted five minutes for them to say their piece through a designee, band alumnus and lawyer Gary Leppla, even though school officials have repeatedly said Waters’ dismissal will not be revisited. Waters supporters want to respect the process and have a voice in the process, Leppla said.

Wadsworth said in a statement that trustees are “mindful of the effect this transition is having on many current and former band members and supporters,” but that the issue is closed.

“All of us are excited to turn the page and begin the 137th season of the ‘Pride of the Buckeyes’ with new faces and a renewed commitment to the values that make this university one of the best in the world,” he said. “We are moving forward.”

Mary Ann Kimbro, whose son served seven years in the band, shouted out after the designee spoke and board members disbanded, accusing them of being too busy to hear from band boosters who are being ignored and disrespected.

“We just cannot tell you how humiliating this has been,” she told reporters after board members left the room. “Not just for Jon. This is bigger than Jon. … This is humiliating for all of us Buckeyes. When you say O-H anywhere in this country, you get an I-O.”

The university has said Waters lied to investigators about certain facts and timelines surrounding the case, which began with a complaint from a band parent.

His supporters defend his reputation and that of the celebrated band, whose halftime shows, including one in the formation of Michael Jackson doing the moonwalk, grab hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. Several witnesses interviewed in the investigation have come forward to say their statements were mischaracterized or inaccurate in the report.

Leppla told the board he hopes trustees will keep discussions open, and Wadsworth said a follow-up investigation by former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery will afford an opportunity for Waters’ defenders to have input. Montgomery has said, however, that her probe cannot by law revisit Waters’ firing.

Ohio State was among 55 colleges and universities revealed in May as under federal investigation by the Education Department, either after complaints filed with its Office for Civil Rights or as a proactive measure to see whether the schools were complying with Title IX provisions regulating institutions’ handling of sexual violence.

The same law guarantees girls and women equal access to sports, but it has been used increasingly by sexual abuse victims who say their schools failed to protect them.