The Harvard University diving coach accused this week of sexual misconduct previously was the director of a prestigious training facility in Georgia, according to his online biography. But so far, no allegations have surfaced against Chris Heaton from his three years in Colquitt County.
Heaton is mentioned in a federal class-action lawsuit filed against USA Diving, the sport’s governing body, but he’s not a defendant. The lawsuit contends that USA diving leaders dismissed complaints against Heaton and others made by divers attending camps at an Indiana diving facility called Ripfest.
“On numerous occasions, another USA Diving-sanctioned Ripfest coach, Chris Heaton, solicited nude pictures from female athletes at Ripfest,” the lawsuit states. “Heaton sent pictures of his penis to young female athletes.”
Former Olympic team coach John Wingfield, who owns Ripfest, dismissed the divers’ complaints about Heaton, which began in 2015, according to the lawsuit. Another Ripfest coach, Ramirez Suarez was arrested and charged with 32 felony counts of child sexual abuse in November, the suit states.
Heaton was named in the suit because the allegations against him highlight the types of behavior exhibited by coaches at Ripfest, Indiana attorney John Little told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Little, along with other attorneys, filed the lawsuit on behalf of several women, most of whom are not named.
“Chris Heaton is an example of what happened in Indiana,” Little said. “You had the top diving group in the country, and these kids moved from all over the country to train with coaches like Chris Heaton.”
During the camps, teenagers had very little supervision and co-ed sleeping arrangements, Little said.
Prior to being named a Harvard diving coach, Heaton was the director of the Moss Farms Diving facility in Moultrie. Located about 200 miles southwest of Atlanta, the facility is well-known for training diving champions, including several who have earned college scholarships to compete, according to the facility’s website.
The Moss Farms Diving facility did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment on the allegations against Heaton.
A spokesman for the Colquitt County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday the agency had not received any complaints against Heaton. An Indiana attorney who filed the lawsuit also said he had no information on any allegations involving Heaton in Georgia.
A former diver at Miami University in Ohio, Heaton came to the Georgia diving facility in 2015. In August, he accepted his first college coaching job at Harvard, according to media reports.
"From a career and family standpoint, it's a unique opportunity," Heaton told The Moultrie Observer in August.
Heaton, who is married with three daughters, told the newspaper his time at Moss Farms had been a blessing. He was hired along with another coach to strengthen the facility’s reputation.
“They hired us to make it a powerhouse again on the national stage,” Heaton said. “And to instill good moral fiber and character. We’ve done that. We’re in the top 10 for the first time in over a decade.”
Harvard officials placed Heaton on leave Tuesday pending a university review, The Associated Press reported. A Harvard spokeswoman said the university was previously unaware of the allegations against Heaton.
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