Thursday, April 25, 2024
HomeEvents & ShowsHigh school equestrians suspended by OHSET over alleged alcohol & drug use,...

High school equestrians suspended by OHSET over alleged alcohol & drug use, but ‘negative’ tests now dispute allegations

Questions are also being raised against the handling (and alleged lack thereof) by Redmond School District officials

Equestrian teens and now former Ridgeview High School athletes Hannah & Hailee Polzel were facing allegations by OHSET despite evidence that they say disputes the allegations hastily levied by their coach. (Photo Credit – Equestrian Media Group)

Redmond, Ore. – Several high school girls with Ridgeview High School in Redmond, Oregon, were suspended by Oregon High School Equestrian Teams (known as OHSET) last month following allegations the girls were consuming alcohol and marijuana during a competition held at Brasada Ranch in mid-February.

The allegations quickly fell into disrepute with some after the results of certified independent drug and alcohol tests were conducted by a local laboratory company in Bend and subsequently disclosed by a parent for two of the three suspended girls.

The Redmond School District is also facing scrutiny amid distancing itself from the entire ordeal– allegations similar to those alleged against the handling of issues involving OHSET by the Oregon City School District in 2021.

Two of the three girls at the center of the allegations, Hannah and Hailee Polzel, 15 and 17, respectively, are now expressing their heartbreak and embarrassment being felt due to what they say are inaccurate rumors of also being suspended by the school officials in addition to OHSET, as well as over the ongoing OHSET allegations of a criminal nature which they adamantly say are false.

The situation led both girls to leave Ridgeview High School, returning to an online school they had previously attended before being involved in OHSET during the pandemic.

The girls’ mother, April Polzel, has been heavily engaged in communicating with both school and OHSET officials, especially after the results of the drug and alcohol tests came back negative.

“These alligations [sic] have been proven to be completely false by an outside forensic lab urinalysis that tested for any traces of any substances going back five days. This window of testing proved that no substance [sic] were in their system the entire time they were at the meet,” said Polzel in a March 11th email to school officials.

Polzel has also called for the resignations of McKenzie Hughes and Tiffany Quintero, OHSET’s Central District Chair & Co-chair, respectively, both of which serve as coaches for the Ridgeview High School OHSET team.

Faith Kuhn, the parent of the other girl facing OHSET’s allegations, also demanded a public apology from OHSET and advised Ridgeview High School officials of the potential for legal action.

“It is unfortunate that I find myself having to write this letter, and you should be made aware that I have sought legal counsel regarding this matter,” stated Kuhn.

Kuhn went on to say in part of her three-page letter:

“The manner in how these athletes were dismissed from the OHSET team was completely inappropriate. They didn’t need the entire board surrounding them while they were publicly humiliated. That is intimidation, and as an adult I felt the intimidation, I can only imagine how this felt for teenagers. Not only were they set up to be intimidated and given this terrible decision this was done at the main entrance of the arena, which is where all foot traffic enters and exits the arena. There is absolutely no reason that they could not have conducted this meeting in the office upstairs, privately.”

Kuhn also alleged OHSET violated several of its own policies:

“Per the OHSET Code of Conduct, Code of conduct violations will incite discrete investigation and appropriate disciplinary actions.’ (OHSET, 2020) The policy also references the process for an investigation, following the school’s written policy for an infraction, as well as contacting law enforcement if a law is broken. Not one of these policies were followed.”

“These ‘leaders’ never asked to speak to any of the accused regarding the allegations or to hear their recollection of events. They never even gave them an opportunity to defend themselves. We live in a country where you are innocent until proven guilty, however these three athletes were persecuted based on hearsay, rumors, and false allegations.”

OHSET appeared to have started reassessing the severity of the suspension following inquiries from Equestrian Media Group, which it has ignored.

While OHSET maintained the alleged rule violations, the girls were offered the opportunity to return but would be disqualified from the state and regional meets.

The Polzels said accepting that offer would essentially be agreeing to the allegations they say are false and clearly disputed by the evidence OHSET continues to ignore.

Numerous email communications provided to Equestrian Media Group don’t appear to make any acknowledgment by OHSET of the certified drug test results.

OHSET has yet to respond to multiple attempts seeking comment– although OHSET’s former chair had previously declined to speak further with Equestrian Media Group or Pamplin Media Group following our respective reporting in 2021 on an Oregon City High School OHSET coach.

Hailee & Hannah Polzel explained how they felt shamed and embarrassed at the OHSET district competition at Brasada Ranch on February 18th after Hughes and Quintero allegedly brought forth the matter in a very public way.

“Like fifteen adults, adults that I’d recognize that are on the [OHSET Central District] board, which I knew, my coaches, and their husbands who have no part of being on the district board, came down and surrounded us,” said Hailee Polzel.

That’s when they say they were informed of the suspension for the rest of the year.

Hannah and Hailee explained that while they were having to pack up and clean stalls, other coaches were allegedly informing their teams about the allegations, making the situation even more embarrassing, the girls explained.

“My daughters were humiliated– it’s embarrassing,” said Polzel.

“I told Ms. Ditto [RVHS’s vice principal], I said they’re not coming back until their name is cleared… I literally thought that these tests would come back, and my daughters would be vindicated.”

Equestrian Media Group has reviewed the drug tests, which showed the girls were negative for numerous narcotics, as well as a urine test for alcohol. While Butterfield Testing Solutions could not disclose the results themselves, they confirmed their authenticity as signed by the medical review officer and doctor.

The collection was done on February 19th, the day after the final day of OHSET’s Central District competition.

April Polzel provided public testimony on Thursday at the Redmond School District Board Meeting, calling on the Redmond School District board to intervene and questioning why the school district would continue to approve of OHSET’s affiliation with its schools.

Officials with the Redmond School District have been distancing themselves from OHSET’s decision in recent weeks.

“I would like to reiterate that this is not a Redmond School District activity and so we do not have any information to provide about this situation. I recommend you contact OHSET directly,” said Holly Brown, a spokesperson for the Redmond School District, in response to Equestrian Media Group’s request for an interview.

The district avoided answering whether it or Ridgeview High School staff had held meetings with OHSET officials or whether it agreed with the action OHSET had taken. April Polzel claimed there were at least two separate meetings between the school and OHSET officials, claiming school officials even revealed details of their own meeting with Ditto.

Eric Lea, an elected director on the Redmond School District Board, also stated in a March 11th email to April Polzel: “Because the equestrian club is not sponsored by the school or district, it would be inappropriate for me to comment as a School Board member. I do wish you and your daughters the very best. They are fortunate to have such a staunch advocate.”

Ridgeview’s Athletic Director Randi Viggiano took a similar position when the school was reached for comment by Equestrian Media Group in early March after the district office failed to return our calls.

Brown claimed she was unaware of our attempts to seek comment when we attended the March 20th school board meeting, where April Polzel indicated she intended to address the school board. Brown also said she was unaware of our March 12th public records request, which the district had yet to respond to by a deadline the day before.

Within the hour of that interaction, we received a response to the public records request from an executive assistant for Superintendant Dr. Charan Cline.

Attempts to interview Dr. Cline in early March were ignored and ultimately redirected to Brown without a response.

Still, the position of distancing by the district is also being questioned by the families and their supporters due to the degree they say the school district facilitates OHSET activities. It was unclear if Redmond School District officials were aware of the issues and precedent of the 2021 case involving OHSET and Oregon City High School.

“Athletics and Activities Directors have no role in managing these activities. Tier III activities may not refer to their club as the schools name, for example Ridgeview High School Rodeo Team or Redmond High School Nordic Ski Team is not appropriate,” Brown cited.

However, the Polzels and others questioned the maintenance of that standard, telling Equestrian Media Group that the Ridgeview OHSET team consistently called itself the Ridgeview High School Equestrian Team in fundraising advertisements, had a float in the school’s homecoming parade with a “Ridgeview High School” banner, held meetings in the school’s library, among other examples recently and in past years.

The Redmond School District maintains it cannot handle issues raised by student-athletes and their parents involving OHSET, a claim the families question based on a previous case of alleged conduct by OHSET officials and the Oregon City School District in 2021. (Photo Credit – Equestrian Media Group)

A source who would only speak on the condition of anonymity, citing their fear of OHSET’s retribution against their own child, also alleged that the OHSET team had obtained money through the school district.

A 2021 letter from the Redmond School District and addressed to the team’s reported advisor, Gayln Snair, was identified as being part of the “RVHS Equestrian Team.” The address for Snair was also the school’s address.

The letter reports that a grant made through the district was being provided towards “Arena Fees.”

As a condition, the district required that OHSET “publically thank and promote Hayden Homes” and “Cooperate with Redmond School District to publicize the grant award.”

“Funds will be deposited into a RSD co-curricular account which will be customary for program spending,” the letter stated.

The document’s revelation conflicts with the more recent statements made by the district.

“These activities are generally managed by parents and the activities sanctioning organization. The district does not provide funding for Tier III activities. The finances of Tier III activities are not recorded in the district’s accounting system and are not to be commingled with any district accounts,” Brown claimed.

State officials determined in 2021 that OHSET’s coaches were also considered public officials.

That determination came amid numerous investigations that year, including an Oregon Government Ethics Commission’s case against Angie Wacker, an OHSET coach at Oregon City High School.

In addition to Wacker using her influence on student-athletes for financial improprieties, Wacker faced numerous allegations of bullying and retribution against students. Wacker and district officials also faced problems relating to injury reporting as required under “Max’s law.”

Two other separate investigations were also initiated by the Teacher Standards & Practices Commission and Oregon Department of Education into Oregon City High School’s athletic director, principal, and district superintendent due to the district’s handling (and alleged lack thereof) of issues involving Wacker and OHSET, according to reporting from Pamplin Media Group.

The Oregon City School District board also held an illegal vote and executive session under public meetings law to retain Wacker, which was revealed by Pamplin Media Group Editor Raymond Rendleman after an order from the Clackamas County District Attorney requiring the release of audio of the meeting by the school district.

The school district later apologized for the illegal board vote uncovered by Rendleman’s investigative reporting.

Recently, numerous sources with information regarding the Ridgeview High School OHSET team have continued to emerge, although those sources would only speak on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of being expelled from OHSET and pointing to the organization’s own rules that prohibit any negative or disparaging remarks regarding the organization.

The Polzel girls have maintained that the policy and the current culture of OHSET is keeping many aware of the allegations, including fellow equestrian athletes, from speaking out online and to the school district amid fear of repercussions by OHSET.

One source claimed the policy, which they also said is now labeled as “draft”, goes on to say:

“OHSET does not want to infringe on anyone’s right to free speech. With that said, we also do not want to be the place where people are free to bully, intimidate, or shame our athletes, volunteers, or contractors. It seems some mandated restraint is necessary.”

“Your personal Social Media should never include criticisms of OHSET, OHSET athletes,
coaches, advisory, judges, etc…”
the policy states.

While restricting criticism, the policy does provide direction on using social media to promote the organization positively. Equestrian Media Group could not yet confirm if the policy was ever officially adopted by OHSET, but sources said it is being enforced.

April Polzel also remarked about the policy: “A policy which restricts and allows them to punish these girls for any bit of criticism isn’t okay, and that’s another reason that any level of support by a school district is just not appropriate when they have a first amendment right when the group ties itself to the school.”

“OHSET, like some of these other sports groups, can exist without even a small tie to the school, but the the [school] district having even small ties is not approperiate if they avoid intervening. Pamplin’s story about Oregon City OHSET seemed to make that clear too,” Polzel went on to say.

The Polzel’s also alleged that OHSET failed to even abide by its policy, having not contacted law enforcement as their policy requires if their athletes were consuming illegal narcotics or alcohol in violation of the law.

Hannah and Hailee said they believe the allegations stem from an adverse relationship they had with the daughter of one of the coaches.

Both girls weren’t aware of any use of marijuana or alcohol by any of the girls during the meet.

(Photo Credit – Equestrian Media Group)

April Polzel claimed that Gayln Snair, the team’s advisor and OHSET’s liaison to the school, reported that there was video evidence to support the allegations against her daughters.

However, she claims that OHSET officials later stated there was no video when she requested to see it. Instead, she says OHSET said that they had several written statements by undisclosed individuals.

School officials have yet to disclose if any of these written statements or other OHSET reports were provided to them. The district is currently citing current exemptions under the law in releasing some material as part of a March 12th public records request submitted by Equestrian Media Group.

The district also failed to provide any fee waiver or consideration of a reduction, which this publication intends to contest, although we will be paying the requested fees while we continue to appeal the matter, if necessary, to the local district attorney.

We also asked what impacts the girls might face moving forward following the suspension and allegations of criminal wrongdoing.

“It was just unbelievable how the whole thing was handled,” said Hannah Polzel, a freshman in her first year and at her first official competition with OHSET.

“I’ve cried for like days over days on just thinking over everything and just like how disgusted it is– how adults could just treat kids like that and try to sweep it under the rug like that.”

Hannah went on to explain that despite feeling embarrassed, she knew they were innocent and thought that when the drug test results came back, their names would be cleared.

According to documents shared with Equestrian Media Group, emails sent to parents and school officials by OHSET’s State Chair Teresa Hoffman make clear that’s not what’s happened.

“To All Involved Parties, I am sending out this email as requested and in conjunction with the revised disciplinary action that Central District implemented for Hannah Polzel and Hailee Polzel of [sic] Ridgeview OHSET team. On March 12th I emailed the revised disciplinary actions that were to be put into effect even though Athletes declined. It reinstated the Athlete with the stipulations of losing 60% of the competition season while still being able to practice with the team and then being eligible for competition on Meet #3 April 11-14, 2024 .” said Hoffman in a March 19th email.

“It’s almost like they just don’t care about the truth. They don’t want the truth,” said Hannah.

Hailee Polzel, a junior in her second year with OHSET, felt the ordeal would likely hurt her chances for scholarships for college to continue her equestrian endeavors.

“Last year, I was top of my events for nearly everything. I made it to State in all my events and continued onto regionals for sorting and poles,” explained Hailee.

“We even broke the regional record for sorting,” she also explained.

The Polzel’s have since shared the drug & alcohol test results for the girls on social media, leading to a number of criticisms about the alleged incident as well as rebuke by some claiming systemic issues within OHSET, specifically its Central District.

As mentioned earlier, OHSET has ignored all requests seeking any comment on the allegations, including the allegations it maintains against the students.

While Equestrian Media Group would typically have just reviewed the test results documents, we are sharing them here because the Polzels have already posted them publically on social media.

April Polzel went on to explain that had her daughters done what she says they are falsely alleged to have done, she absolutely would have stood by the decision and would have “been tough on the girls, making them understand the lesson they’d learn from doing it.”

“That the Redmond School District is allowing a club to abuse and strip these students of basic rights every American is entitled to, is unacceptable. My girls were handed down the heaviest of consequences when code of conduct violations were assumed, yet OHSET factually violated many of their own codes of conduct and it is being completely ignored, causing further insult and injury to these girls,” said April Polzel in a March 11th email to the elected board members for the Redmond School District.

Polzel went on to say in her email to the board:

“You are allowing these students to be bullied, harassed and ostracized by this club that you allow parents to believe is a safe environment. Being as you are involved with education, I would assume that you have a heart for children. The unjust treatment of these children should outrage you and you should be going to battle for them instead of washing your hands of the situation, wishing them well in their own fight for truth and justice to be enforced and recognized.”

Brown did go on to claim that “the children involved are not Redmond School District students,” a claim that Polzel later said during follow-up questioning was “disingenuous” and likely due to her girls just recently registering out of Ridgeview High School after what she says was the school and OHSET’s failures.

April Polzel went on to explain that their family has been supporters of the program for a generation, explaining that the girl’s father was a former coach of the Trinity Lutheran OHSET team years ago and that she has allowed OHSET teams to practice at her horse boarding facility at zero cost over the years.

“My girls grew up around OHSET; they were inspired to be part of OHSET and support the organization, and that makes this all the more devastating to see at the hands of their current leadership,” said Polzel.

In a follow-up email to our interview request to the Redmond School District, we asked, “Does the district dispute that OHSET coaches are considered public officials?”

The Redmond School District has not yet responded to the question.

OHSET’s State Director Teresa Hoffman has also yet to respond to or acknowledge multiple emails made in recent weeks.

You can count on NW Horse Report to keep you updated on this developing story. Join the discussion on Facebook, Instagram, or X (formally Twitter).

- Advertisement -Ad Space Available

Use the links below to checkout our social media pages. Like/follow us to stay up to date on our latest and breaking news that matters most.

Supporting our efforts

NW Horse Report is working hard to bring industry-focused news and issues within the northwest to you at no cost. We accomplish this through reader donations and paid advertisements only without paywalls. Be sure to contact us if you have a news tip!

- Advertisment -Ad Space Available

Most Popular