Thursday, January 8, 1998
District investigates prank on student

BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

brubaker
Robert Brubaker
Angry public response to my Wednesday column has prompted Covington Independent Public Schools superintendent James Kemp to launch his own investigation into a joke played on Holmes High School student Robert Brubaker.

''We take all allegations of alleged mistreatment of our students under any circumstance or under any condition very, very seriously,'' Mr. Kemp told me Wednesday afternoon. He said he would interview all parties involved with the joke and see what response was needed.

On Wednesday, I wrote about 16-year-old Robert Brubaker, an equipment manager for the Holmes High School basketball team. Back in December, Robert was asked by Holmes coach Jim Cooper to suit up for a junior varsity game because the team was short on players. The teen-ager willingly gave up a day's pay at his night job for a chance to play for the school he loves. But at game time he found out it was all a joke.

Besides being humiliated, Robert lost the $45-50 he would have earned as a wheelchair attendant at the Cincinnati - Northern Kentucky International Airport. It's hard-earned money that Robert uses to buy food and medicine for his family, room and board for himself, and, if he can, save a little for an upcoming school trip and maybe a car.

It was in December that I first took Robert's story to Holmes athletic director Ron Madrick. He wouldn't let me talk to coach Cooper, but said he would conduct an investigation.

On Monday, Mr. Madrick acknowledged the incident happened but said ''everything was done in humor. Nobody was trying to hurt that kid.'' And, he didn't think anyone at the school owed Robert an apology.

At lot of readers thought otherwise.

Callers flooded my voice mail and other newsroom numbers. Local radio and TV stations picked up the story. Lots of people called the school. (A person who works in Holmes' office told me they were getting six to eight calls per minute Wednesday morning.)

People who called The Enquirer were angry and appalled at the way Robert was treated. Many wanted to send him money, to make up for the lost wages, to help him pay for the Holmes High Spanish Club trip to Puerto Rico that he was saving for.

On Wednesday night, Robert was at work at the airport. He was running between terminals helping passengers in wheelchairs on and off their flights.

He told me it had been a tough day. He was interviewed by several TV stations. And after school he was in a meeting with his mother, Holmes principal William Grein, athletic director Madrick, coach Cooper and superintendent Kemp.

Robert said they asked a lot of questions but offered no apology. That's still all Robert wants.

''I just want a public apology from Coach Cooper in front of the junior varsity,'' he said between wheelchair runs.

''It doesn't have to be on the basketball court before a game,'' he added. ''The locker room's fine.''

Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

RADEL ARCHIVES