Larry Wittig, a longtime rowing coach who rose to a top leadership role in the Pennsylvania education system, resigned from his position as chair of the state Board of Education this week after The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on multiple allegations of sexual misconduct that occurred while he worked as a coach affiliated with Penn.
In a Dec. 21 Inquirer article, multiple women, including some of Wittig's former Penn rowers, said he pressured them into romantic relationships while under his purview. Other allegations included groping and, in one case, rape. That same day, Wittig declared his intention to leave the Board of Education and Gov. Tom Wolf accepted his resignation.
“He told me I had perfect breasts,” Annette DeMichele, a 1985 College graduate and former Penn rower, told the Inquirer. Wittig, while in his thirties and married, carried on a one-and-a-half-year sexual relationship with DeMichele, beginning the summer before she entered Penn as a freshman.
She told the Inquirer the relationship felt consensual at the time, but now has doubts based on the age difference and Wittig's power over her as coach.
In 1984, about two years after the relationship between Wittig and DeMichele had ended, he resigned from his position at Penn "following investigation into charges of sexual harassment and program mismanagement," according to a report in The Daily Pennsylvanian.
After leaving the University, Wittig rose the ranks of the state education system, eventually joining the State Board of Education in 2001 and becoming its chair in 2011. His term had been set to expire in October, but Wolf had not yet appointed a successor to replace him, according to the Inquirer.
The board has broad oversight of elementary, high school, and collegiate education across the state.
DeMichele said she had chosen not to speak about the incident for decades, but decided to come forward in light of the series of testimonies made in recent weeks by survivors of sexual harassment and assault as part of the #MeToo movement, which began with a New York Times investigation into accusations made against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
Sarah Dahlgren, one of DeMichele's teammates at Harriton High School in Bryn Mawr, Pa., said Wittig sexually harassed her during his time as an informal coach of the team. While sleeping in a common room during a rowing trip, Wittig reached in between her legs, she told the Inquirer. Another woman, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Inquirer she had a sexual relationship with Wittig while he was 29 and she was 16.
This is not the first time that Wittig has faced sexual harassment allegations. In 1970, when he was a student at Drexel University, Wittig was charged with raping a 15-year-old friend of his sister, but was found not guilty by a Schuylkill County jury.
When contacted by the Inquirer, the woman who made these allegations said, "He got away with it. Of course, I was humiliated. I was unhappy. I’m still unhappy about it. But what am I supposed to do when they say he’s not guilty?”
Wittig, who was not immediately available for a comment on this story, has denied all allegations of sexual misconduct.
“I know of them, yeah, of course, but I’m, look — I’m not going to answer any particulars,” he told the Inquirer. “I’m just going to say I categorically deny it.”
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