Kirk Shipley, former Whitman High rowing coach, pleads guilty to sex abuse charges

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Former Walt Whitman High School rowing coach Kirk Shipley pleaded guilty Friday to sexually abusing two girls, accepting a deal that will require him to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life and could lead to up to 20 years in prison.

Shipley, 48, was charged in August with abusing two former rowers at the Bethesda, Md., public high school, where he coached and taught social studies for two decades. The nature of the charges stunned the affluent rowing community where he’d long been a fixture.

They trusted a coach with their girls and Ivy League ambitions. Now he’s accused of sex abuse.

On Friday, after months of negotiations and delays, Shipley appeared virtually before a DC judge and acknowledged that he was guilty of first-degree abuse of a high school student and possession of a sexual performance by a minor.

The two felonies each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and/or a $25,000 fine. A judge will decide how much time he will serve at his sentencing on Sept. 9.

Dressed in a suit and a plaid tie, Shipley — who’d kept his camera turned off at a March hearing — peered into his computer screen as he answered the judge’s questions.

Assistant US Attorney Caroline Burrell told DC Superior Court Judge Maribeth Raffinan that, if the case went to trial, she would be able to prove that Shipley had oral sex with an 18-year-old student who graduated in 2018. Shipley, who was 44 at the time and the student’s coach as well as her history and geography teacher, exchanged 4,000 text messages with her between February and June 2018, Burrell said.

“Are those facts true and correct?” Raffinan asked Shipley.

“Yes, they are,” he said.

Burrell also said she could prove Shipley had sex with a student who graduated in 2013. He had also been her rowing coach and history teacher. At the time, she was 17 and he was 39. Burrell said a forensic review of Shipley’s devices had found multiple explicit images and videos of the student.

“Are those facts true and correct?” Raffinan asked Shipley.

“Yes, they are,” he said.

Raffinan then said she would find Shipley guilty based on his plea. By accepting the deal, he waived his right to a trial.

Shipley was not incarcerated after the hearing. Prosecutors asked that Shipley physically be in attendance at his sentencing in September, when victim impact statements from the community and a former rower will be read.

A three-time All-Met Coach of the Year, Shipley had led Whitman’s club crew team for almost 20 years, winning regattas and sending girls on to Ivy League colleges. He earned $101,656 from Montgomery County for teaching and another $34,500 from the parent-funded and parent-run crew program.

Shipley had weathered two investigations into complaints about his toxic behavior, including a 2018 rumor that he was having a sexual relationship with a girl on the team. But he had managed to hold onto his job, even after seven senior girls wrote a scathing letter to the parent board last year that they hoped would get him fired.

A high school coach is accused of abusing two teens. More feel victimized.

Shipley’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment.

Matthew Ornstein, an attorney for the Network for Victim Recovery of DC who represents Shipley’s victims, said the women are relieved.

“Our clients are glad that … Shipley accepted responsibility for the abuse he inflicted,” he said. “And we will be spending the next few months preparing for the sentencing phase.”

Terri Ravick, who teaches science at a neighboring high school and whose daughter rowed for Whitman until 2018, was the first to sound the alarm about his behavior in 2018. On Friday, she was at school when Shipley was in court. For her, closure will come down to the sentencing.

“For the victims’ sake, I’m glad that they didn’t have to endure the spectacle of open court,” Ravick said. “I will be at the sentencing hearing and hope that his sentence is commensurate with the lasting damage that he has inflicted on these girls.”

As Colleen Parent — whose daughter rowed for Whitman and graduated in 2018 — watched the court hearing online, she offered to text updates to her daughter. Like many other rowers, the betrayal of a trusted adult is still stung. It was difficult for Parent to see Shipley’s face again and hear again the details of the charges against him — particularly because so many adults had ignored warning signs over the years, she said.

But she was reassured that he was being held accountable for his actions.

“The US attorney has done a really good job here and brought this case to what I think is a fair and quick resolution,” Parent said. “I just really thank the women for coming forward and being known. That must have been incredibly hard. I hope this brings them some sense of relief.”

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