The chairman of the Pennsylvania Board of Education has resigned after allegations by several women that he initiated sexual relationships with them when they were teens over 30 years ago.
On Tuesday, Larry Wittig, 68, a former rowing coach, said he “categorically” denied the allegations, reports the Times News, but on Thursday, Wittig said he had had sex with one of his accusers, though he denied he continued the relationship as she alleged.
“Never have I ever in all my coaching had any kind of relationship with anybody that I coached, sexual or otherwise,” Wittig said, adding he had no “clue” why allegations against him would be made after three decades.
“The last 48 hours for me have been turning my world absolutely upside down,” he said.
As the Inquirer reports, several of Wittig’s accusers say they met him in the early 1980s when they were members of the Harriton High School crew team in Lower Merion. Wittig was a member of the Vesper Boat Club, where the team practiced.
The women described Wittig as a disciplined coach who often made sexual jokes, took them out to nightclubs, and made advances toward them.
“All of the time, he kept making passes at me,” Margo Boyle, one of the former rowers, said. “And I just, I blew him off. I didn’t mind the passes. But I just knew nothing was going to happen, because he was creepy.”
Annette DeMichele, now 53 and also a former Harriton rower, said Wittig took her to a nude beach when she was 17 and continued a relationship with her for well over a year. She said she considered the relationship consensual at that time but now describes it as coercive since Wittig was in his 30s.
DeMichele, who reportedly has a law degree and a doctorate in clinical psychology, said she continued her relationship with Wittig after graduating from high school and attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she was again on the crew team and Wittig was the coach. She said Wittig resigned from the university in 1984 after an investigation that included a probe into his relationship with her.
According to the Times News, DeMichele said she decided to make her story public after hearing other women discussing having been sexually harassed by powerful men.
The report also states she has “kept many mementos from the relationship, including a 1982 receipt bearing Wittig’s name from a lingerie store.”
“I thought I was somehow more grown-up and special and sophisticated at the time, having this relationship,” DeMichele told the Inquirer. “Whereas now, I can look back and realize how young and naive and vulnerable and stupid I was.”
“He told me I had perfect breasts,” she reportedly said. “No one had ever seen them before.”
DeMichele said she also developed an eating disorder because Wittig paid a lot of attention to her weight.
Eventually, after Wittig told her his wife was pregnant, DeMichele said she broke off her relationship with him.
“I guess, however, I had to delude myself, it kind of all came crashing down in that moment, and I also got just hit with this tremendous guilt and shame,” she told the Inquirer. “Not that they were absent previously. But they just were so much more real when he told me that she was pregnant. “
A third woman, who wished to remain anonymous, also told the Inquirer she had an ongoing sexual relationship with Wittig from the time she was 16 and he was 29.
In 1970, at age 21, Wittig was charged with raping a 15-year-old girl – a friend of his sister – but said Tuesday the girl accused him of rape because her family tried to extort money from him. According to the Times News, Wittig was found not guilty by a jury that deliberated for four days.
“He got away with it,” the unidentified woman reportedly said. “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, a Republican, was appointed to the state board of education by Gov. Tom Ridge in 2001 and appointed chairman of the board by Gov. Tom Corbett in 2011. His term was set to expire in October or upon the appointment of a new chairman, which Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has not addressed.