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UPDATE: Coach in powerlifting controversy makes statement

Getting Answers
Posted at 11:38 AM, Apr 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-16 12:42:21-04

UPDATE: Travis Werner, who has been the center of controversy involving Abbeville High School's powerlifting team, sent us a statement this morning.

In that statement, he echoed what we told you yesterday: that the school system and the school are making sure the team will get to their national competition.

"I met with Mr. Tommy Byler, superintendent, this morning," he wrote. "I am excited to be able to take the Abbeville High Powerlifting Team to nationals. Mr. Byler is going to oversee everything to make the trip possible. He was very helpful."

Yesterday, Byler and AHS Principal Brett Darby told us that they had never intended anyone else to do that. They specifically ended Werner's tenure as coach the day after nationals to ensure the students would be able to go with their coach. They both told us that Werner was the one who said he wouldn't do it - and then social media posts and phone calls began, telling a different story.

In his statement, Werner also said he has "accepted the position of Head Powerlifting Coach of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, effective June 1."

We called UL, and they tell us they don't have a powerlifting coach. They do not have any varsity team for weightlifting at all, a spokesman said. There is a powerlifting club, and the students who belong to that club are free to engage anyone they wish as their coach, a spokesman said. The athletic department has not hired anyone as a weightlifting coach, the spokesman said.

When we asked Werner for clarification, he confirmed that he is the coach of the student weightlifting club. He said he also will be operating a powerlifting club, not affiliated with any school, out of CrossFit Verse in Abbeville.

"I will continue to teach science at Abbeville High and will continue to hold out hope for a future that may see my return as our school's powerlifting coach," he wrote. "Though my coaching position will effectively end on May 31, I am passionate about our school and community and remain committed to what has always been my top priority - kids."

The nationals end on May 31, according to the event's online webpage.

"The support I have been given by kids and parents has been tremendously helpful and has meant the world to me," he continues. "The community's continued support is deeply appreciated."

Werner also says that UL has hired him

Over the past several days, KATC has received a lot of calls from students and parents connected to the powerlifting team at Abbeville High School.

They've said they're upset because they won't be allowed to go to their national competition. They say their coach was relieved of his coaching duties and the school board "froze" their team's fundraising account.

We reached out to the school system and the administration of the school to try to get some answers. The bottom line is, both the superintendent and the school's principal are working to get those students to nationals.

Superintendent Tommy Byler says the school system has, from day one, said the kids could go.

"I want the kids to go to nationals. They've worked hard. I want them to go. But they were told by this coach that they are not going," Byler says. "I've already given permission for them to use the money to go. And the day the coaching position ended for him is June 1 - because that's the day after nationals."

Byler says the school system's position is that the students can go to nationals and they can use the money they raised to pay for it.

That's not to say there aren't problems with the finances, he said. The last time the proper paperwork was filled out for fundraisers was in 2018, he said. When that was discovered, paperwork was done retroactively, along with accompanying documentation to explain why it was retroactive, Byler explained.

Paperwork is required for school system accounts, which are audited annually, he explained.

"We have government rules we have to follow," Byler said. "I want to be sure that the money we are using to send them is coming from a place where the documentation is in place and it is legal to use that money to send them. I want the kids to go. But we're going to do it the right way. The coach who was supposed to take them says he doesn't want to take them."

A copy of the retroactive fundraising application, which was filled out using the only documentation school staff could find on the events, has been passed around social media. Byler said he's aware of that, but the document hasn't been signed by him, and what hasn't been passed around is the principal's letter explaining why it had to be filled out retroactively. If you'd like to see both documents, scroll down.

"It has always been the position of this office that the kids could go and the school could take them," Byler said. "I want the kids to go to nationals, and the money that was properly vetted into that account for that purpose absolutely can be used, but we have to figure out what money that is. If he had turned in paperwork last fall, we'd be done with this."

Since the coach apparently has decided not to take the team to nationals, we asked Abbeville High Principal, Brett Darby, if there's a way for another teacher or coach to take the students to nationals.

"We are already in the process of getting those students taken care of," Darby tells us.

But, he said, the coach's position was set to end on June because that was after nationals, he said.

"That's specifically why his position was ended the day after nationals," Darby says.

That has been said to the coach specifically on a number of occasions; he has been told that he can take the students to nationals.

"There is no confusion," Darby says.

Darby says he wants all parents to know he is ready to talk to them about what happened and make clear what the school's position is about this meet. He's asking any parents who are concerned to get in touch so he can meet with them about this.

We've reached out to the coach to get his side of the story, and we'll update this post when we hear from him.

Here's the document that made the rounds of social media:

And here's the principal's letter, explaining why it was filled out retroactively: