Conducting an online “search” on prestigious Harpeth Hall School brings up photographs of famous alumni, girls in school uniforms strolling on a perfectly landscaped campus, and a rapist. That is, since this week’s arrest of the school’s beloved soccer coach.
Tennessee’s George Henry “Rico” Laise, 46, was the soccer coach at Harpeth Hall all – female prep school. He was clean-cut with neat, short hair, and a wide smile. He coached his team cross-country, all the way to Las Vegas. He looked and acted like the type of coach you would want your child to emulate and respect. But he may have kept a dark secret.
The initial outcry came from a girl who played on a traveling soccer team Laise coached. Last year the teenager suffered a concussion serious enough to put her out of their game in Las Vegas. She reported this was when Laise began to speak to her about sex. The girl suffered from concussion-related depression. Their sexual “relationship” began in March 2012 and lasted until April this year. As a result, “Rico” Laise has been charged with two counts of statutory rape by authority figure and two counts of rape involving a victim with a mental incapacity. But this was not an isolated incident, according to law enforcement officers. Like all child molesters, Laise allegedly had more victims.
Four other teen girls have come forward with outcries that their coach, “Rico,” had taken advantage of them. Laise reacted by attempted suicide in his Davidson County jail cell, where he has sat since June 4, 2013 after his arrest. He was rushed to Vanderbilt and is reportedly in good condition. It was after his arrest on school grounds that three girls came forth with outcries.
One of the incidents occurred in Shelby County, according to law enforcement. Officers are now retracing the former coach’s work locations in the chance there were other victims. This may be an extended investigation; Laise has been coaching various youth soccer teams since the 1990s and he offered private lessons.
Harpeth Hall sent a letter home to parents that read in part, “Mr. Laise is a well-respected coach not only at Harpeth Hall but in the greater community. We have never received accusations of inappropriate behavior by Mr. Laise.” Laise has been placed on a leave of absence at his job. The Tennessee Soccer Club has terminated the coach’s membership.
The investigation continues into both the allegations and the potential for more victims. Metro Police are asking anyone with information about the case or suspicion about similar relationships to call Metro’s Sex Crimes Unit at 615-862-7540.
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Photo of J. Yates courtesy R. Stephens