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'Hike up your dress.' Can a youth activity beset by a sex scandal fix itself?

Florida high school teacher Joel Moody lost his teaching license in 2010 after sending sexually-charged text messages to a student. Two years later he was hired by Fred Morrison, executive director of the Crossmen Drum and Bugle Corps. That decision that has come under increased scrutiny in light of the sexual misconduct allegations against former Cadets drum corps director George Hopkins.

Fred Morrison, executive director of Crossmen drum corps of San Antonio, Texas talks to the horn line early Monday July 24, 2017 at Forney High School in Forney, Texas.
Fred Morrison, executive director of Crossmen drum corps of San Antonio, Texas talks to the horn line early Monday July 24, 2017 at Forney High School in Forney, Texas.Read moreRon Baselice/The Dallas Morning News

In 2010, a Florida high school teacher named Joel Moody decided to text a student he was enamored of.

"I just want to grab you," he wrote. "Hike up your dress. Well you know the rest."

It was one of a number of sexually charged messages he sent the teen, texts egregious enough that Florida education officials stripped Moody of his teaching license.

His behavior has been less troubling to Fred Morrison, the drum and bugle corps director who hired Moody in 2012. Morrison, executive director of the Crossmen of San Antonio, Texas, has since promoted Moody to assistant director, a position that oversees scores of teens and young adults.

Morrison's decision to employ Moody has come under renewed scrutiny in recent weeks — while taking on a sense of irony.

As chairman of the board of Drum Corps International, the activity's sanctioning body, Morrison is among those leading the organization's response to a recent sexual misconduct scandal involving former Allentown corps director George Hopkins. Morrison and other drum corps leaders, in reaction to the Inquirer and Daily News investigation into Hopkins, recently met to draft new regulations to ensure member safety and repair the activity's damaged reputation.

As for the controversy at home, Morrison has been evasive. Moody's name abruptly disappeared from the staff list on Crossmen's website last month. Morrison has made no public announcement about Moody's employment and has ignored multiple interview requests.

Moody, 39, who also did not respond to repeated interview requests, last week told the director of a nearby corps he plans to be on tour this summer, per usual.

That director, Chris Magonigal, said in an interview that he was concerned about how Moody's situation was being handled.

"The best way to face this is with complete honesty and transparency," he said. "And that hasn't happened."

>> Sexual abuse in drum and bugle corps: Do you have a story?

The sexual misconduct scandal now encroaching on the Crossmen and Drum Corps International (DCI) leadership erupted last month when nine women told the Inquirer and Daily News they had been abused by Hopkins, director of the famed Cadets drum corps.

Hopkins' subsequent resignation did little to quell the growing backlash within the small but fiercely-devoted community of drum corps fans. Hundreds have taken to social media to share stories of being abused while a corps member or to call for better protections for participants.

The activity, similar to marching band, combines music, theatrics and color guard.  Members of the most competitive corps range in age from 16 to 22 and travel the country for the summer performing in pursuit of the national title.

While overseen by DCI, the corps are largely autonomous. DCI has signaled change is coming. The regulations recently drafted by the DCI board have yet to be made public, but are expected to outline stringent standards all corps must meet.

‘It made me uncomfortable all the time’

Moody was 31 and band director at Winter Park High School in Orange County, Fla., when he sent a series of inappropriate text messages to an 18-year-old student. According to documents filed with the state board of education, they included:

  1. "I can't wait to see you naked. You're so beautiful."

  2. "The things I want to do to you sometimes."

  3. "We just keep talking as friends because I don't want to lose you. Then when things can work we can see where we're at?"

Another teacher learned of the texts from a friend of the student, the Orlando Sentinel reported at the time. Moody was placed on leave, then resigned.

The student told a district investigator that she had texted Moody for academic advice, school records show. When his messages turned inappropriate, she said, she asked him to not text anymore. Moody stopped for a time, then started up again, the investigator wrote.

Moody admitted sending the messages, calling them an "error in judgment," records show. He agreed to a five-year revocation of his educator's certificate.

Within months, Moody was working for the Teal Sound, a drum corps in Jacksonville, Fla. The now-defunct corps acknowledged it knew of Moody's history, writing in a 2011 news release that he had made "past mistakes" but that they did not "define his overall work."

"We feel that Mr. Moody has been very open and honest about the situation and that speaks volumes about his character," the corps wrote.

Moody joined the Crossmen the following year.

Two women who worked with Moody there said he often made them uncomfortable.

One, who asked to not be named because she now works for another corps, said was she hired by the Crossmen in 2016 when she was 22. She said Moody regularly made her uneasy by giving her lingering hugs, placing his hand on her shoulder or back or sitting too close to her.  Moody also made comments about what she was wearing, she said, and offered compliments on her looks.

"It made me uncomfortable all the time," she said.

She said she did not consider telling Morrison or his wife, Maureen, both of whom are on the Crossmen board of directors, because she believed they already knew of and had ignored Moody's past.

"I didn't feel comfortable addressing it with them," she said.

The second woman, who also asked to not be named out of concerns for her privacy, said Moody first showed a romantic interest in her a few months after she finished marching with the Crossmen in summer 2014, the last year she was eligible. She was 22.

Moody invited her to visit him in Texas that winter, she said, and they had consensual sex while she was there. The woman said Moody told her about his history in Florida, calling what happened a "mistake."

"It was weird because it's like, obviously he likes younger girls," she said. "It went off like a tiny red flag in my head. Maybe I'm just the next thing."

The woman was hired by the Crossmen for the following tour. She said she was dating another staffer that summer and Moody singled them out for criticism, what she believes was a form of retaliation.

"I think he brought me on specifically because he knew he would have someone to have sex with during the summer," she said. "And then I got a boyfriend, so that thing he thought he had was taken away. He was really resentful."

She said she didn't consider complaining to Morrison. She said she believed he would side with Moody.

The man she was dating, who also had marched with the corps the previous summer, confirmed her recollection and said Moody's constant criticism weighed on him.

"There was no one else on staff that got talked to the way [she] and I did," he said. "As an alumni of the Crossmen, it was heartbreaking."

‘Joel has paid his penance’

Jason Buckingham, who was on staff the summer Moody joined the Crossmen, said he and other instructors knew what had happened in Florida. Buckingham said he personally spoke with Morrison about Moody the following year, 2013, when he resigned from the organization, a decision he made in part because of his discomfort working with Moody.

"When I resigned I told the director … 'I think you're taking an awful gamble with the organization with this guy,'" he said. "It seems like an unwarranted risk."

Buckingham said Morrison told him people deserve second chances.

Magonigal, founder and CEO of the Genesis drum corps in Austin, said Morrison told him the same thing when he expressed concern about Moody in 2014.

"He said . . . Joel has paid his penance. And he'd like the matter to be dropped," Magonigal recalled.

Magonigal said he was hesitant to share his concerns with a reporter for fear that he would be viewed as trying to undercut a rival. But he said he decided to speak out because he fears Morrison's decisions could have a negative impact on his and other corps — on their ability to attract members and find places to stay while on tour.

He said corps rely on schools to provide overnight facilities and practice space during the summer tour, arrangements that in recent years have been harder to secure because of potential liability. He noted that the University of Pennsylvania had already canceled a show and practice involving the Cadets in the wake of the Hopkins scandal.

More fundamentally, he said, the activity's reputation is on the line.

"If there's concerns in the broader sense of kids being safe in drum corps, [parents are] not going to send their kids," he said. "They have other things they could do with their summers."