SHERWOOD, Ark. (ABP) — A coach and principal at a Baptist-sponsored Christian school in Arkansas pleaded not guilty March 23 to a charge of sexually assaulting a former student.
Tim Ballard, 39, who is free from jail on $50,000 bond, did not speak at an initial appearance in Sherwood Municipal Court in Sherwood, Ark., a Little Rock suburb. A judge entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf and passed the case on to Pulaski County Circuit Court. Ballard ignored questions from reporters who followed him as he walked from the courthouse across a parking lot and drove away in a pickup truck.
Ballard, high-school principal, assistant superintendent and senior boys basketball coach at Abundant Life School, a ministry of Sylvan Hills First Baptist Church, was arrested March 19 and charged with first-degree sexual assault, a Class A felony punishable by a minimum of six years and maximum of 30 years in prison.
The investigation began when an anonymous male called the Sherwood Police Department March 1 reporting that Ballard had recently resigned as coach and been placed on administrative leave at Abundant Life School along with his wife, who also teaches at the school. The caller said Ballard was accused of having sexual relationships with "several female students."
Keith Brickell, senior pastor of the Sylvan Hills church, released a statement March 2 saying Ballard, who has worked at the school for 18 years, was on administrative leave with pay pending investigation of the allegations against him.
According to a police report, Brickell told police he learned Feb. 24 that Russell Eudy, the superintendent of Abundant Life School, had received an e-mail from a former student who alleged that she had a long-term inappropriate relationship with Ballard that began in 7th grade and lasted until her senior year. During the investigation a second female called to claim that she also was a victim of sexual assault by Ballard.
Brickell said church leaders are cooperating in the investigation. "As always, our primary concern is for the welfare and safety of our students, and we are doing everything within our power to care for and protect them," he said. "We are praying for God's healing and strength for all those involved, and we ask that the community remember all of us in their prayers, as well, as we deal with this matter."
According to an affidavit arrest warrant quoted by local media, the female who made the first complaint said she started attending the Christian school in kindergarten in 1997. She said Ballard took an early interest in her because she was active in sports. After she grew older, she claimed, she started spending a lot of time alone with Ballard for training purposes. Over time it progressed to physical and then sexual contact, which continued until she graduated in May of 2009.
The police report said that both Brickell and Eudy told officers it was not the first time they had received a complaint about Ballard involving inappropriate behavior with a female student. The superintendent said the first was made 11 years ago and the most recent in September 2009.
Brickell, who joined the church staff in 2006, has not commented to the media since Ballard's arrest, but he said March 23 he and an attorney were working on arranging a press conference.
Started in 1977 with a kindergarten class of 11 students, Abundant Life School now enrolls 465 students in grades 4K-12. Its website touts the ministry as "a school which for over 25 years has been a stable influence in our community." The school's stated mission is "to assist parents in training their children to become Godly young men and women by educating them spiritually, mentally, physically and socially."
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.