Curl-Burke founder Rick Curl faces hearing on former swimmer’s account of underage sexual relationship in 1980s


Washington area swimming coach Rick Curl. ( Washington Post file photo)
July 25, 2012

Prominent Washington area swimming coach Rick Curl took a leave of absence from the club he founded Wednesday in the wake of accusations that he engaged in a sexual relationship with a teen swimmer and then paid her and her parents to keep quiet as part of a settlement.

Kelley Currin, whose maiden name was Kelley Davies, said Curl had sexual relations with her for four years beginning in 1983, when she was 13 and he 33. USA Swimming has requested an emergency disciplinary hearing against Curl.

Currin said her parents, Gerald and Pamela Davies, learned of the alleged relationship when they read her diary soon before she left for the University of Texas on a swimming scholarship in 1987. She said they confronted Curl, but their attorney discouraged them from pursuing criminal action.

Instead, in 1989, the parties reached a non-disclosure agreement under which Curl agreed to compensate the family $150,000 over 11 years for the “pain and suffering experienced by her” and because he recognized possible damage to his “reputation and customer relations.” Under the agreement, which The Washington Post has reviewed, Currin agreed not to press charges or speak publicly about it.

Reached Tuesday night, Curl, 62, declined to comment on the matter. Asked if he had any comment about USA Swimming’s action, he replied, “No, I have no idea what that’s all about.” Asked about specific allegations made by Currin, Curl abruptly ended the call.

Curl, who coached Tom Dolan to three medals in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, attended last month’s U.S. Olympic trials in Omaha on a coaching credential. His Curl-Burke Swim Club, founded in 1978, is one of the largest in the country, with 950 swimmers among its 10 sites in the Washington area.

Currin, now 43, told The Post last week that her growing desire to speak publicly of her experience finally overcame concerns about jeopardizing the settlement.

“I was stifled for 23 years from saying anything because I signed a piece of paper when I was 19,” Currin said. “Now, I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I’m done being quiet about it. . . . It was a crime, what happened.”

Currin said when her parents became aware of the matter years ago, their attorney told them that Andrew Sonner, then the Montgomery County State’s Attorney, speculated that Curl would get only “a slap on the wrist.” (Sonner, now retired, has told The Post he did not recall the matter.) Currin said she confided in a number of people, including some prominent coaches, but The Post was unable to find any evidence of formal action initiated against Curl.

Gerald and Pamela Davies declined to comment for this story. Currin said her parents believed they had gotten bad legal advice and later regretted agreeing to the settlement, but at the time saw few options.

“My parents were great parents, but they were as naive as I was,” said Currin, who now lives outside Dallas. “They did not know. They trusted this guy.”

Currin said that a USA Swimming investigator contacted her and her parents two months ago. USA Swimming on Monday night initiated a National Board of Review proceeding, requesting an expedited hearing and inviting the alleged victim to testify, according to USA Swimming spokeswoman Jamie Fabos Olsen. Fabos Olsen said the organization moved to take action last Friday after receiving the non-disclosure agreement.

B. Robert Allard, Currin’s attorney, sent the agreement to USA Swimming via e-mail soon after Currin spoke on the record for the first time to The Post.

“In order to protect the integrity of the case, I cannot comment further on its details except to confirm that USA Swimming has initiated the process in place to deal with complaints of sexual misconduct,” Fabos Olsen said in an e-mail.

Emergency hearings generally take place in about 10 days; the board can rule to suspend membership pending a full board review that would occur within about another 45 days.

The complaint drafted before the family reached its financial settlement, which The Post reviewed, alleges that Curl sexually molested Currin beginning in March 1983, when she was 13, and performed oral sex on her at age 14. The complaint, which is called Exhibit A in the agreement, alleged he had sexual intercourse with her when she was 16. Currin told The Post that the sexual intercourse actually began at 14 but she did not disclose this to her parents at the time out of concern they would be angry with her. The agreement, which was signed by Curl, states that he was not admitting any liability in connection with the allegations.

‘That was the beginning’

Currin said the abuse started when she was 13 with a kiss on the lips in front of a water fountain in the hallways of Georgetown Preparatory School in North Bethesda, where the swim club leased the pool. That night, she said, Curl called her at her home. She recalled stretching the cord of the phone into the dining room for privacy. Curl told her, she said, he was “on cloud nine.”

“That,” she said, “was the beginning.”

Currin said she would sneak with Curl into an office at Georgetown Prep after practices, where kissing turned into oral sex and sexual intercourse in a bathroom inside the office. She said Curl told her she was “special” and, on a number of occasions: “Don’t worry, if we get caught, I’ll take half of the blame.”

“By the time I was 14, in my little 14-year-old brain, it was very much a love affair,” she said. “I loved him. . . . Any problem I had, he would fix it.”

She said sexual intercourse occurred on nearly every road trip, including in the stairwell of a hotel shortly after Curl got married; at his house when he would put in pornographic movies; and even at her parents’ house while they were home. Because she lived in Ashton, 30 minutes away from Georgetown Prep, Curl occasionally would offer to drive her to early morning practices, she said, and her unsuspecting parents offered him a bedroom to save him the drive.

Currin’s revelation comes in the wake of a handful of lawsuits filed in recent years against USA Swimming by youth swimmers who allege that adult coaches abused them. USA Swimming has since instituted an awareness program, mandatory background checks and other safeguards, including requiring that its members report any inappropriate activity.

Curl, the 1994 American Swimming Coaches Association Coach of the Year, has been a member of the U.S. national team coaching staff. Curl functions mostly as the Curl-Burke Swim Club’s chief executive rather than an on-deck coach currently, according to coaches at the club.

Currin won a gold medal in the 200-meter butterfly at the 1987 Pan Pacific Championships in Brisbane, Australia, and finished fourth in 100 fly at the 1986 Goodwill Games in Moscow. She still holds the top times in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle among Curl-Burke swimmers ages 13-14. Olympian Katie Ledecky last July broke her 28-year-old record in the 100 butterfly among 13-14-year-olds.

Currin told The Post that for years she was fearful of speaking out because of the threat of possible legal action from Curl based on the confidentiality provisions in the agreement. Allard told USA Swimming in an e-mail provided to The Post that she would not testify at any hearing, questioning the legitimacy of the process and arguing that the document itself provided sufficient evidence for action to be taken.

In an e-mail from USA Swimming’s attorney Rich Young, which was provided to The Post, Young said Currin’s testimony could be critical to the case.

‘A big step for her’

Curl ceased communication with Currin after her parents found out, she said. She said at that time she felt heartbroken and devastated. Though she won the gold medal in the 200 fly at the Pan Pacific Championships in 1987, the year she entered college, she finished seventh in the event at the U.S. Olympic trials in 1988, failing to make the U.S. Olympic team.

A day later, she said, she entered a treatment facility in Texas, where she spent two months receiving care for an eating disorder. After she was released, her family negotiated the settlement.

Currin said she confided in a number of people when the relationship ended, including Bill Bullough, the founder of the Rockville-Montgomery Swim Club. Bullough said she told him of a sexual relationship with Curl but did not provide specifics. At the time, she was seeking another club with which to train when she returned home from college.

“We provided her an opportunity to get back and swim and support her,” Bullough said Saturday. “We did hear [about a sexual relationship] from her. It was none of our business. She wasn’t all that comfortable [talking about it]. It was a big step for her to say, ‘I’d like to swim, but I can’t go back to that guy.’ ”

Added Bullough: “She wasn’t asking for help from us. It was like, ‘Hey, this is behind me; I’d like to keep it behind me.’ . . . She hadn’t gone public. It didn’t sound like she wanted to deal with it [publicly]. Out of respect for her, we didn’t tell anybody.”

In a rule instituted in September 2010, USA Swimming requires that members report inappropriate activity when they become aware of it. If the alleged activity appears to be criminal, USA Swimming is required to inform the proper authorities.

A teammate at Curl-Burke said Currin told her shortly before the 1988 Olympic trials what had happened.

“I was pretty much in shock,” said the swimmer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the topic. “It was so under cover. I would room with Kelley on trips, are you kidding me? . . . It still blows me away. . . . She told me all the years it occurred, and that there was sex. She thought he loved her and she loved him. She thought she was going to grow up and they would get married.

“No one else came out in my era and said, ‘Oh yeah, me, too.’ And I was there the whole time.”

Currin said she also confided in the late Richard Quick, a former U.S. Olympic team coach who was at the University of Texas when she arrived, and a number of other prominent coaches.

Pete Morgan, who coached Olympic medalist Ed Moses and is a longtime coach under Curl, said he heard rumors of an inappropriate relationship and asked Curl about them on a number of occasions. Currin claimed that Morgan had walked in on her and Curl when they were kissing in a hotel room, but Morgan denied witnessing such an incident.

“All I know about the stories that have circulated about Kelley and Rick are hearsay,” Morgan said Sunday. “Rick never confided in me — and I consider him one of my best friends — anything that would be inappropriate. . . . Kelley never confided in me anything untoward. . . . Rick and I certainly chatted it up. Rick felt there was nothing to add to the rumors other than that they were untrue. My hope is this is something that doesn’t have a basis.”

Paul Tenorio contributed to this report.

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