NORTON, Va. (WJHL) On Monday, about one hundred community members in Norton, Virginia attended a vigil in support of students who’re accusing a well-known local coach of sexual harassment and assault.
As they marched down main street, their freshly-made shirts sent a clear message: “We Believe You.”
Virginia State Police are investigating multiple allegations against J.I. Burton High School football coach and teacher Jim Adams.
Adams and his attorney have denied the accusations. They did not return News Channel 11’s request for comment Monday.
Advocates at Family Crisis Support Services said the vigil was intended to be a beacon of hope for all victims of sexual misconduct after seven girls reached out to the organization, accusing Adams of sexually harassing and, in some cases, sexually assaulting them.
“The purpose of this event is not only to continue to raise awareness but to let any victim of sexual harassment and sexual assault know that they do have a voice, that they’re being heard and that there is help out there for them and mainly, we believe you. period,” said Angel Mefford, an advocate for FCSS.
Taylor Collins, 18, was the first student to speak out against Adams.
“It was an everyday occurrence where we were degraded, called sexy, you know, hot. Just words that we weren’t comfortable with, especially at 14-15 years old,” she said at the vigil Monday.
Lilly Redman, who graduated from J.I. Burton in 2018, spoke to News Channel 11 for the first time about her experience in Adams’ freshman history class.
“For example, one day I wore a dress and he asked me to stand up and hand out papers because he thought I looked too pretty to be sitting down,” she said. “As a freshman, I was 14 years old and I didn’t really know what to say, who to tell or if anyone would believe me.”
Despite these claims, Norton City’s School Board voted unanimously to renew Adams’ contract as head football coach, a decision that concerns some current J.I. Burton students.
“I want him removed because if they don’t do anything about it, it’s like they don’t care about it,” said Carly Tomko, an incoming 9th grader.
Tomko said she wouldn’t currently feel comfortable reporting a sexual harassment incident to administrators.
Norton School Board members have declined multiple requests for an interview, citing student and employee confidentiality concerns.
In a statement, School Board Chair Cody McElroy said they will investigate all claims fairly, carefully and thoroughly.
Superintendent Gina Wohlford’s contact information was provided in a Facebook post, calling on all victims of sexual misconduct to come forward.
Family Crisis Support Services Executive Director Mary Beth Adkins said she’s been impressed with the recent actions of administrators.
“They want what is best for the girls and they’ve been very supportive,” said Adkins.
“I definitely think they’re taking steps in the right direction to do what should’ve been done a long time ago,” said Mefford.
Adkins said the allegations against Adams have sparked much-needed conversations among community members.
She also said the accusations have made people more aware of the resources her organization offers, such as support groups and individual counseling.
If you’ve been a victim of sexual harassment or assault, you can reach FCSS at (276) 679-7240.