Was Buchanan wrestler's move an illegal act?

Buchanan High athlete faces trial on a charge of sexual battery.

December 5, 2010 

Clarification: There's no formal definition of the "butt drag," but coaches say it involves grabbing the butt cheek of a rival. Coaches vary on how often anal penetration occurs, but they say that it should never be intentional. The move does not involve skin-on-skin contact; the wrestler practicing the move is pushing his fingers against his opponent's uniform.

Correction: Preston Hill has not been expelled. He has been suspended pending an expulsion hearing.


In a crowded gym during practice in front of parents and coaches, the Buchanan High School wrestler tackled a teammate and executed a move his coaches taught him.

He inserted his fingers between the boy's buttocks.

It's called the "butt drag," in which a wrestler grabs a rival's butt cheek and puts fingers in the anus to get leverage. The move is widely used at matches around the country and has been around for decades.

But now it is at the center of an uproar after Buchanan High wrestler Preston Hill was expelled and charged with a sex crime for using it on a teammate.

"It just doesn't make sense," said Preston's father, Darren Hill. "His coaches taught him the move when he was in middle school. All the wrestlers use it and my son did it in front of his coaches at a school-sponsored event."

Clovis police, however, say 17-year-old Preston went too far. A police report says that at a July 15 practice, he molested a Buchanan freshman teammate by inserting his fingers deep into the boy's anus, causing him pain.

The boy's father, Ross Rice, said Preston is a bully who targeted his 14-year-old son because he stood up to Preston in an earlier encounter. Now, Preston's friends are teasing the boy at school, Rice said. The Bee is not naming Rice's son because of the allegation that he is the victim of a sex crime.

"Preston took it beyond a simple wrestling move," Rice said. "He crossed the line."

The Fresno County District Attorney's Office has charged Preston with sexual battery. His trial begins Thursday in Fresno County Superior Court.

The case has some scratching their heads.

Former Fresno State coach Dennis DeLiddo said the butt drag is a common move used by wrestlers all the time. "I've never heard this move used as being ugly or dirty," he said.

On Friday, DeLiddo was at a wrestling tournament in Las Vegas. During a telephone interview, he said, "a coach just yelled out butt drag" to encourage one of his wrestlers to use it.

District Attorney Elizabeth Egan declined to comment. But Michael Idiart, a former assistant Fresno County district attorney, said he would not have filed criminal charges because wrestlers know that once they get on the mat, they are consenting to pain -- and sometimes embarrassment.

"If this is a legitimate and recognized wrestling move, the DA has no case," he said.

But if bullying had occurred, Idiart said, school officials should address it in a reasonable fashion: "Kids do stupid things. They shouldn't have their lives ruined."

Clovis Unified School District officials said they couldn't comment because of laws that protect minors.

Not the first case

The butt drag has been in the news before.

In 2007, a 17-year-old South Dakota high school wrestling champ was charged with rape and attempted rape after six wrestlers testified that he penetrated or tried to penetrate their anuses.

A lawyer for Jerome Hunt said he was employing a legitimate wrestling move called the butt drag, which is also known as "checking the oil."

Hunt's lawyer described those acts as horseplay, but the judge characterized the teen as a bully. The boys testified that it usually happened before practice, while wrestlers goofed around until coaches arrived.

Hunt was found guilty and sentenced to probation.

Mike Moyer, executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association in Pennsylvania, said the butt drag is common in high school wrestling. But like most moves, it's up to the wrestler to do it safely, he said.

"There are many examples of moves than can be legal or illegal, depending on how it is executed," Moyer said.

Moyer described another move -- the crossface -- which many wrestlers use to try for a pin. But if not executed properly, it looks like an uppercut to the face.

Moyer said sticking fingers into the anus of an opponent for an extended period of time "is not taught. It is never taught. That would be one of many examples of a legal move applied in an illegal way. Just like using a crossface if it's executed like an uppercut. It could lead to legal action if it's malicious and causes harm."

In Clovis, both sides agree the butt drag is commonly used.

Families wait

Preston's older brother, Spencer Hill, was a top wrestler at Buchanan and now wrestles at Fresno City College.

Before he was expelled, Preston had been named captain of the Buchanan wrestling team and was a candidate for college scholarships, said his parents, Darren and Kristin Hill.

Because of his expulsion, he is banned from Clovis Unified School District property and must be home-schooled. He also is taking classes at the Center for Advanced Research and Technology in Clovis, his parents said.

"The worst part is that there is so much uncertainty," Darren Hill said. "We don't know if he will get a diploma or have a criminal record."

Rice said his two sons know the Hill brothers and participated in wrestling camps with them and never had problems. "My sons looked up to them because they are pretty good wrestlers," Rice said.

Rice said he's not being an overprotective parent, and he's not naive about bullying being part of high school life.

"Throwing a kid in trash cans and giving them wedgies is one thing," he said. "What he did was more serious."

Rice said Preston and his parents are trying to cloud the issue by saying he was using a legitimate wrestling move.

"My son was molested. I have the doctor's reports to prove it," Rice said. A doctor examined his son the day after the incident and found redness and possible slight bruising to the anus but no other obvious signs of trauma, according to the police report.

What happened

On July 15 several parents and coaches had gathered inside Buchanan's gym to throw a party for head wrestling coach Tyrell Blanche's birthday after practice.

Blanche has a favorite drill to keep his workouts loose. Wrestlers kick a soccer ball around until Blanche blows his whistle. When the whistle goes off, that's the signal for wrestlers to stop kicking the ball and wrestle the nearest person.

When Blanche blew his whistle, Preston was matched up with Rice's son, the police report said. During the encounter, Preston used the butt-drag maneuver, Darren Hill said.

The police report said the boy never complained to coaches or school officials about the move.

According to attorney Stephen Quade, who is defending Preston against the sex charge, the 14-year-old was so unfazed, witnesses said he stayed for Blanche's party and playfully sprayed silly string on the coach.

"If he was traumatized, you would think he would say something," Quade said.

But the boy later told his mother, who called police.

According to the police report, the mother said her son told her that several students, "especially Preston," had been bullying her son since June. They would take her son's water bottle during practice.

"Hill would either drink the water all by himself or pass it around to his friends, leaving no water for the rest of the practice," the report said.

Trouble started when the boy told Preston during weightlifting on July 15 that he was not going to give up his water. He told police that Preston then made a threatening gesture -- he inserted two fingers into a circle formed by his other hand -- indicating "he was going to place his fingers up his butt," the report said.

At practice that evening, Blanche conducted his soccer drill. The boy told police that he felt Preston was purposely standing by him until the coach blew his whistle.

Once the coach blew his whistle, Preston -- who is bigger and stronger than the freshman -- pulled the boy down to the mat, the police report said. Preston pressed his forearm against the boy's neck to hold him down while he rammed his two fingers into the boy's anus for at least 30 seconds, the boy told police.

Afterward, Preston told the boy, "I told you I was going to do that," according to the boy's account to police.

But the boy never told his coaches. "He didn't think it was a big deal at the time, and he wanted to practice," Clovis police officer Mark Bradford said in the report.

Though he was mad, he also kept quiet because he didn't want to be considered a snitch and get Preston in trouble, Bradford wrote.

Bradford said he examined the boy's underwear, but found no physical evidence such as bleeding. He said he also asked the boy if Preston had sexually assaulted him.

"The victim replied no, that he felt Hill had done this because he was mad at the victim for not giving him his water bottle," Bradford wrote.

Bradford later talked to Preston without his parents present. Preston told police the water bottle had nothing to do with what he did. He said he inserted his two fingers between the victim's buttocks for three seconds as a wrestling tactic, because he wanted to get the boy to wrestle him.

"Everyone does this to motivate people who don't move on the mats," he said, according to the police report.

Preston also denied making the gesture with his fingers.

No one else saw Preston make the finger gesture, either, said Fresno attorney Charles Magill, who represents Preston in his fight to get reinstated at Buchanan High. Magill also represented five students who were expelled for cutting down two trees at the Central High School East Campus in February.

"If they are hanging their hat on this so-called gesture, that's not enough," Magill said, noting that prosecutors must prove Preston had a specific intent to abuse the boy sexually.

Magill said prosecutors and school officials have overreacted.

"When a boxer enters the ring, he gives up his right to file an assault charge," Magill said.

"Wrestling is more intimate."

Magill said Bradford's report is skewed because he didn't interview anyone else at the July 15 practice. In his report, Bradford concluded that based on the boy's statements, sexual battery occurred.

"Case closed," he said in the report.

The reaction

Coach Blanche said his superiors told him he could not comment. But Buchanan wrestler Matt Negrete, a friend of Preston's, said he saw nothing unusual at the July 15 practice.

"I don't think the punishment fit the crime, because we all use it, " said Negrete, a senior.

"It's all very sad and unfortunate for the wrestling team and wrestling community."

Magill said violence in schools has played an unfair role in Preston's punishment.

A zero-tolerance policy at Clovis Unified and other school districts, he said, has taken rights from students and parents.

"It's a no-brainer when a kid brings a gun or knife to school," but incidents such as the one involving Preston should be tackled with some common sense, he said: "After Preston was suspended, there should have been a way for these kids to work things out."

Clovis students -- and their parents -- take wrestling seriously. Clovis High's team was state champion in wrestling in 2008. Buchanan won the honor two years earlier.

Preston's parents, Darren and Kristin Hill, said Preston has attended Clovis Unified since kindergarten and hasn't been in trouble before. They feel betrayed, they said, because they have donated money to their children's schools, and Kristin Hill has volunteered on school committees and been a crossing guard.

"We have given our blood, sweat and tears for this school district," Darren Hill said. "All we want them to do is investigate it properly."

Clovis Unified spokeswoman Kelly Avants said the law prohibited her and other school officials from commenting specifically about Preston's expulsion or whether there are plans to ban the wrestling technique taught to Preston.

In a statement, she said: "Clovis Unified has a number of competitive athletic programs, in which students are taught standard techniques, strategies and moves for their respective sport. We have, and will continue, to hold our coaches and athletes to high standards of conduct and sportsmanship that follow the competitive standards of their sport."

Rice, a former member of the Fresno Council on Child Abuse Prevention, said prosecutors and Clovis Unified shouldn't buckle under the pressure coming from the Hills and their friends.

"If he's convicted, maybe it will be a stern warning to others that this behavior will not be tolerated," he said.

The reporters can be reached at plopez@fresnobee.com and nickg@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6330.

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