KINGSPORT - Mike Noel is more than a teacher and basketball coach at Tennessee's smallest public school in Clinch.
In the past he's been described by his colleagues and admirers as an inspiration to the community, a leader among the faculty, and a father figure to his players. This past season he led his boys varsity basketball team to its first-ever winning record and first post-season appearance.
But on Thursday that pillar of stability and success that Noel has helped build at Clinch School during his 14-year career came crumbling down as news spread throughout the rural mountain community that Noel had been arrested in Kingsport - accused of sex crimes against two of his juvenile basketball players.
Noel, 36, 718 Hollis St., Kingsport, was charged Thursday by Kingsport police with four counts related to allegations of sex crimes with the boys ages 13 and 15 on the weekend of June 16-18 during a sleepover at his home for players.
According to a report filed by Kingsport Police Department Detective Melanie Adkins, the allegations were presented to the police on June 21. As a result of the ensuing investigation, police alleged that Noel "forced a 13-year-old male to sexually arouse him by participating in behavior in which the child made intimate sexual contact with Mr. Noel."
Adkins further states in her report that Noel solicited the same child and a 15-year-old male to perform sexual acts. There was also an allegation that in June 2006 during a previous "sleepover" Noel made sexual contact with the same 13-year-old player, who was 12 at the time.
"Mr. Noel provided a statement in which he admitted to the offenses," Adkins stated in her report.
Noel has been charged with aggravated sexual battery, sexual battery by an authority figure, solicitation of sexual exploitation by a minor, and attempt to commit especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor. He remained lodged in the Kingsport City Jail Thursday evening on $50,000 bond.
Noel teaches math, coaches boys basketball and cross country, and is athletic director at the tiny K-12 Clinch School - the smallest public school in Tennessee - located in the rural Clinch Valley area of Hawkins County about 16 miles north of Rogersville.
The school is 45 miles from Noel's home in Kingsport and generally has fewer than 10 students in each grade.
Upon hearing of Noel's arrest Thursday evening, Hawkins County Board of Education member Tammy Baird expressed sadness and concern about the effect this arrest will have on the children, the school and the community. With outstanding academic and athletic successes in the 2006-07 school year, morale at Clinch School had been at an all-time high.
"I can't comment on the charges because I don't know any of the specifics," said Baird, who represents Clinch on the board. "But I do know that the simple fact that he's been arrested is going to be devastating. This is terrible. This makes me sick. They have had their best year ever, the spirit was up, and I just think this is so sad."
In past Times-News coverage of Noel's coaching exploits it has been reported that he spends a lot of his personal time taking players to various sporting events. They've attended University of Tennessee games and the Arby's Classic. He even took them to watch an NBA game.
The entire squad spends a week at Noel's home during summer camp at Milligan College.
"It cuts down travel time and gives the boys more time to sleep," Noel said last year of the overnight stays at his home.
Hawkins County Commissioner Shane Bailey is also a former Clinch School teacher and served as assistant basketball coach under Noel for two seasons, 2004-05, and 2005-06. Bailey said Thursday evening Noel's arrest is "devastating" and "hadn't sunk in yet."
"I hate it for the whole community, and I hate it for Hawkins County Schools," Bailey said. "Clinch has been a bright star in the county, and we're going to have to pick ourselves up and keep going. I don't know which two (players) were involved, but I know all the kids on the team, and I just pray so hard for all of them and the whole community."
Bailey added, "All I saw when I coached with Mike Noel was a very organized great coach, a great teacher, a great leader, and a role model. I know you're considered innocent until proven guilty, but the scar of this is going to stay with Clinch School for a long time."