ORLEANS — Nauset Regional Middle School Principal Keith Kenyon is among seven administrators being sued by a former North Kingstown (R.I.) High School student for failing to prevent inappropriate touching by a coach at the school. Aaron Thomas, a teacher and basketball coach, is accused of routinely getting teenage male athletes to strip naked in his office under the pretext of conducting “fat tests.” Thomas reportedly did the so-called tests for more than 20 years.
Thomas was fired by the North Kingstown School Committee in February 2021. He is now the subject of a civil suit filed by former students and a criminal investigation by the Rhode Island attorney general’s office.
Kenyon was the athletic director at the Rhode Island school for 24 years, and he hired Thomas as an assistant basketball coach in 1989, Kenyon told the Independent. He and six others are the subjects of another civil suit filed in Providence County Superior Court on April 19 by lawyer Timothy Conlon of Burns & Levinson on behalf of a student identified as “John Doe 42.” The suit alleges that supervisors and staff working alongside Thomas were negligent in oversight and in creating a culture where Thomas could be alone with students and ask them to take off their clothes so he could perform these “tests.”
Kenyon, 62, left the Rhode Island school in 2009 and was hired as Nauset Regional High School’s athletic director in 2010.
Over three decades, Thomas held various positions in North Kingstown, the last as varsity basketball coach and audio-visual and communications teacher. Thomas set up meetings with male students alone in his office. Athletic Business reported, “Those who met with him got the same question, ‘Are you shy or not shy?’ Those who said they weren’t shy would remove their underwear or drop their towels, to allow Thomas to examine and measure their bodies, including their groins. Thomas used skin-fold calipers and touched them with his bare hands.” He touched the boys high in their inner thighs while sitting with his face inches from their genitals, according to news reports.
Attorney Matthew Oliverio was hired by school authorities to conduct independent investigations of the allegations and what administrators knew about them. In a June 2021 report, he stated that standard BMI tests use pinch tests at the waistline, scapula, and back of the bicep, and that there is no legitimate reason to have athletes remove all their clothes.
The Boston Globe quoted attorney Conlon saying Kenyon had given Thomas authority to conduct the “sham program.” But Kenyon, who was Thomas’s supervisor for 20 years, said the charges came as a complete shock.
“While I am very sorry about and horrified by what the plaintiffs experienced when they were high school athletes, I was not aware of, and had never heard a single whisper about, Aaron Thomas conducting ‘fat tests’ on students in any inappropriate way,” Kenyon said. “And to date, no one has offered any facts to the contrary. Had I any such idea, I would have immediately stopped the practice, kept Mr. Thomas away from student athletes, and recommended the termination of his employment.”
Nauset Schools Supt. Brooke Clenchy said in a statement that she was monitoring the investigations. “We have also interviewed Mr. Kenyon relating to his former employer,” she said. “Since this is a personnel matter, we are not able to share any further information as it relates to Mr. Kenyon’s employment.”
Who Knew What and When
Attorney Oliverio issued a second report in March 2022, which concluded that some administrators knew Thomas conducted BMI testing but assumed it was appropriately done. Suspicion was aroused in 2017 when Athletic Director Howie Hague saw a boy in athletic shorts but no shirt in Thomas’s office in a remote part of the school building. But Oliverio found there was little follow-up until 2021.
“My investigation leads me to conclude that details of the concealed way Aaron Thomas conducted his fat testing protocol was not known to any current administrator until June 2017, at the earliest,” Oliverio wrote. “I also make this determination because those former students whom I did interview uniformly told me they did not disclose the testing protocol to their teachers, counselors, staff, coaches, administrators, or parents…. Any disclosure was later made only after Mr. Thomas’ suspension in February 2021.”
Because Kenyon left in 2009, Oliverio’s report appears to clear Kenyon of failing to take action after the first alleged disclosure in 2017.
But there is a glaring hole in the report: Oliverio did not interview Kenyon.
“There were certain individuals I feel may have a wealth of knowledge on the issue, and they refused to speak to me, one such individual being Keith Kenyon, the architect of the Athletic IQ testing,” Oliverio wrote.
Kenyon told the Independent that he never received Oliverio’s phone or email inquiries. Supt. Clenchy said Nauset administrators found an email to Kenyon from Oliverio dated Dec. 3, 2021 in the school’s spam folder labeled “Deleted, Spam, Unread.”
As for the phone calls, Kenyon said, “I have not used the phone numbers listed in the report for some years now, and I never received a call on my current phone.”
Since then, Kenyon said, he has contacted Oliverio, agreed to answer questions, and is fully cooperating with “every investigator and law enforcement official who has contacted me.”
Oliverio confirmed that he “spoke with Mr. Kenyon’s counsel, Peter DiBiase and Craig Montecalvo, following release of my report and they were cooperative.”
DiBiase and Montecalvo did not return a call from the Independent. Oliverio also refused to answer any other questions.
In his report, Oliverio described Kenyon as the “architect” of another type of testing done on athletes at NKHS.
“It is evident,” Oliverio stated, “that the fat testing program conducted by Mr. Thomas was an extension of the Athletic IQ testing program spearheaded by Mr. Kenyon.”
Athletic IQ, or AIQ, was a now-defunct business venture founded and financed by former National Football League player Randy Tyson. It purported to measure “core athletic ability”: body composition, flexibility, foot speed, and eye-hand coordination. The evaluations were touted as an unbiased, standardized tool that could be used by college scouts, according to Oliverio.
According to Kenyon’s resume, he had been working with AIQ since 1993 to do testing of NKHS athletes annually. In the 2006-2007 school year, Kenyon took a leave of absence from the school to work full-time for AIQ. He returned in September 2007. AIQ soon went out of business.
“I was not the architect,” Kenyon said. “Mr. Tyson came to me with the idea and asked for my assistance, which I provided as a friend.”
Steve Froberg, who was a student at NKHS and then worked for three years for AIQ, said the premise was to take subjectivity out of athletic testing. The measurement for body composition involved no calipers or touching but rather “bio-electrical impedance” conducted by machine.
Froberg said he has known Kenyon for 35 years as a student and a colleague at AIQ and defended Kenyon’s honor and character.
Two major differences between AIQ and Thomas’s methods: AIQ subjects were fully clothed and barely touched by operators, and the testing was done in large public settings such as gymnasiums, Froberg said. The tests were conducted in many states, not just at NKHS, he added.
Why Kenyon Left R.I.
Kenyon left NKHS after a 2009 audit done by the accounting firm Cayer Caccia. A copy of the audit obtained by the Independent describes several instances when Kenyon covered personal spending with school athletic funds, including his billing the school $1,364 to attend a conference in Orlando in 2005. AIQ reimbursed him for the same expenses. The audit did not lead to criminal charges, but Kenyon was suspended by then-Supt. Phil Thornton and resigned in August 2009, according to local newspaper reports.
The auditors found Kenyon used $940 in student activity funds to enter two golf tournaments with other NKHS coaches in 2007 and 2008. They found he charged the school activity fund a total of $1,101 for cell phone bills in 2003, 2004, and 2005.
Kenyon declined to comment on the audit. Several articles were written about it in the Rhode Island-based Independent in 2009, and the North Kingstown School Committee held public meetings. Presumably, Richard Hoffmann, then the Nauset superintendent, knew about the controversy when he hired Kenyon as athletic director in 2010.
A 2010 Cape Cod Times article stated that “a five-month inquiry found no evidence of fraud, theft or criminal behavior on Kenyon’s part, but said he made a lot of bad decisions. When asked about his resignation in a phone interview yesterday, Kenyon said. ‘It became a toxic environment and very political. I saw it coming for two years. I don’t think I had bad judgment.’ ”