Miami U can’t produce the hockey coach tape. Here’s why that’s a very big deal

Oh. That’s really interesting. After being given 8 weeks to look for it, Miami officials still can’t produce the recording of the hockey coaches. This is supposedly after checking the most dependable, last-ditch place in which to look, the Southwest Ohio Regional Depository, on Miami’s Middletown campus, where a back-up copy of every recording produced as part of Miami’s bicentennial should have been sent. You know, for safe-keeping.

I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking, “Good Lord, woman, why do you keep talking about that hockey coach tape? Can we PULLLEEEEZE get back to the topic of Ron Tammen?”

I apologize. Clearly, we don’t know if the tape ostensibly labeled “Miami Hockey Coaches” is, as I’ve come to believe, of Carl Knox’s former secretary, and thus pertinent to Ron Tammen’s case. My sincere hope is that it is, but we’ll have to watch the tape before we know for sure.

What we do know for sure is that the hockey coach tape hasn’t materialized yet and, what’s more, may never materialize. 

A missing tape may not seem like a big deal during these, um, uncharted times in which we’re living, but if you happen to work in a public institution, as Miami’s faculty, staff, and administrators do, in a state that has a Sunshine Law, as Ohio does, it could be considered a very big deal. 

You see, when the hockey coach tape was created, it became a public record, as did copies that were created from the original tape.

According to this flowchart, five DVD copies were made from each Oral History Project recording and sent to University Archives and storage. A “preservation copy” was sent to a repository.

According to Section 149.43 of Ohio’s Revised Code, Ohio’s Public Records Act, if a member of the public should request it, it should be promptly (their word) made available to them. The law prohibits the destruction of a public record until a certain period of time—called a retention period, which is prescribed by the institution in question—has elapsed, unless special permission has been granted.

But the retention period doesn’t apply in this case. Here’s why: the hockey coach tape was produced by University Archives for the Miami Stories Oral History Project. University Archives, as a rule, doesn’t throw any of its records away. That’s especially true concerning recordings that they themselves created in celebration of the university’s bicentennial, which they dubbed a “legacy project.” Heck, they’ve even saved two recordings of former staffers from the radio station WMUB—one recorded in March 2007 and the second in July 2008—even though the 2007 tape experienced technical issues and the 2008 tape was a do-over. According to university documents, every Oral History Project recording was considered to be a permanent part of the University Archives collection, which means that their retention period was supposed to be forever and always. 

Organizers stated as much on their 2005 application to Miami’s Institutional Review Board to conduct its first story circle. Under item #10, “Procedures for Safeguarding Confidentiality of Information,” they wrote: “Oral histories are not confidential. Interviewees will understand this before signing the consent form. Tapes are not destroyed, but instead are saved in Archives for use by future researchers.”

A 2007 iteration of the bicentennial website says: “…Miami Stories discussions are recorded and stored on digital video formats so that future generations may enjoy and study them, and scholars may have ready access to unique information about Miami’s past.”

A December 15, 2008, Oral History Project report said that use of the recordings “is professionally monitored by University Archives. All interviews are filed there for consulting by future scholars, students, University officials, and the public.”

Well…all interviews except one, apparently. Look at it this way: A recording that was created to last forever and always so that it could be enjoyed and studied by future researchers—including yours truly—appears to be lost at best, or, at worst, gone forever.

Oh, there’s one other option, I suppose. The university has indicated through their lawyer that the recording may well exist but is damaged, and they sent the following photo of a tape titled “HOCKEY TAPE #2 (EDIT).” (There wasn’t a tape labeled HOCKEY TAPE #1, and the tape that was in the same box was recorded over and unrelated to hockey.) From what I can tell, no one has watched the damaged tape to confirm if there are any hockey coaches on it because, you know, the damage and all.

I’m skeptical. I don’t think an Oral History Project recording of Miami hockey coaches would be labeled as some generic “Hockey Tape.” Also, I’m a child of the 1970s who used to listen to music on audio cassettes and, later on, to watch my videos on VHS. When those cassettes would get mangled up like that, we’d take out a trusty #2 pencil and stick it in one of the holes and wind it up ourselves, past the part that was damaged. And voila, working again.

When I showed the photo to an expert I know, that’s exactly what he suggested, including the pencil trick. Or, if the tape is too badly crinkled, perhaps the bad part could be cut out and the two good ends taped together. His opinion is that a little damage doesn’t mean the entire recording is compromised. Maybe the end product isn’t good enough to post online, but at least my question concerning the hockey coaches could be answered. For this reason, I plan to request a chance to review Hockey Tape #2.

If we find that it really is just a bunch of hockey coaches being interviewed for the bicentennial, fine. We can all move on with our lives. But if it isn’t of Miami hockey coaches? 

No one is going to jail over a missing hockey coach tape. I’ll be proceeding with my case through the Ohio Court of Claims, a process that could potentially accrue even more legal costs, which isn’t exactly the happiest of options for an ordinary citizen such as yours truly.

Ordinary citizens have pursued lawsuits under Ohio’s Public Records Act, and public offices have had to pay hefty fines for noncompliance. One of the most impressive rulings was the case of Kish versus the City of Akron, when two former city employees who were jointly seeking a little more than $900 in overtime pay were awarded over $860,000 in punitive damages: $1000 for each record that had been destroyed (480 records for Elizabeth Kish and 380 records for her colleague Victoria Elder) plus compensatory damages. Obviously, the city wasn’t elated with the outcome. If they were unwilling to fork over $900, imagine their displeasure when they were ordered to pay 956 times that amount. But the ruling was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit as well as the Ohio Supreme CourtIn 2011, the amount of damages that a public office could owe was capped at $10,000, regardless of the number of records that were illegally destroyed.

It’s worth noting that any potential punitive and compensatory damages aren’t paid by the people who have destroyed public records. Nope, taxpayer dollars pay for damages owed, not to mention the public office’s legal representation. In my Court of Claims complaint, throughout the mediation process, Miami U’s lawyer has been funded by Ohio taxpayers (including yours truly) as an employee of the Ohio Attorney General’s office.

But honestly? I don’t think the so-called hockey coach tape has been destroyed. Historians, archivists, and people of that ilk have a passion for records that lives deep in their bones. My theory is that, sometime between July 2009 (the last time I know of when the hockey coaches were mentioned in an Oral History Project report) and September 2009 (when they were left off of a master list of interviews), some well-intentioned person might have placed the tape in a dark corner of King Library, hoping, for whatever reason, that it would go unnoticed until all of us were long gone. 

Perhaps this theoretical person envisioned some other researcher—someone way, way in the future; someone who is kinder and gentler and less bothersome than I—stumbling upon it. That good person would sit down to have a listen—if they could find the outmoded technology on which to play it, that is—and hear forgotten voices from Miami’s past. Would it be the voices of hockey coaches telling stories about the birth of that program and some of their more momentous matches or would it be the lone voice of Carl Knox’s former secretary sharing her memories of a quiet yet profoundly motivated business student who went missing in 1953? By then, who would really care?

I don’t know yet if my theory will hold up, but you can bet that I really care. Thankfully, there are a few additional places I can look that don’t involve lawyers and legal fees. As mentioned earlier, I’ll be making another trip to Oxford in the near future, asking to review HOCKEY TAPE #2. I’ll also ask to review the three Oral History Project boxes again, especially the folders containing consent forms, several of which I’ve been informed were signed by some former Miami hockey coaches. Lastly, it probably wouldn’t hurt if I just asked a few of the Miami hockey coaches myself, would it?

19 thoughts on “Miami U can’t produce the hockey coach tape. Here’s why that’s a very big deal

  1. Regarding the archival records a thought occurred to me: do archives keep records of who accesses the archives, sort of like libraries know who checked out books? I don’t know enough about that topic, but if such records for “Miami U athletics” or “Miami hockey” existed it might garner names of folks who know where materials are stored.

    Another thought — has someone perhaps research/published any books or articles on Miami athletics in the recent past? That could be another potential source of clues if they’ve done similar research. The university bookstore might know that answer because chances are they stocked any resulting books or other publications.

  2. Now I’m picturing a physics student wandering the campus with a Looney Tunes-esque magnet, 🧲 randomly touching it to stuff and accidentally erasing the tape…

  3. You and I both know that with some stubborn persistence you can find a misplaced tape and manage to get it to play. Just have to ask the right student 😉

    I still find it weird that there were signed consent forms but there was no recording listed anywhere. If I remember correctly, that was the only group that had forms but no recording listed.

    You ever wonder if someone is purposely dropping bread crumbs here and there?

      1. Some of the comments on here are just head scratchers. Do people really think there are employees at the university in 2022 that are actively trying to prevent information about Ronald Tammen to get out? Really? Hey folks, maybe they just can’t find a copy of the tape? I know, an institution losing something they are supposed to safeguard is completely unheard of but try and suspend your disbelief for a moment. As someone who is a retired police detective I can tell you it happens a lot more than it should. I find missing persons cases, especially this one, unbelievably interesting and have followed all the hard work and efforts of the author of this site for years now. But honestly, it seems like we are getting into grassy knoll territory at this point.

      2. I’m back. OK, so you’re going to be a tougher sell. That’s fine. If you’ve been reading my latest posts, you’ll note that I didn’t think much about the hockey coaches tape at the onset. I was literally just saying to them: “Please send me all of the unposted recordings and we’ll be done here.” Only when it became clear that the hockey coaches weren’t anywhere to be found and yet there was a paper trail to a hockey coach recording did I begin to suspect that the hockey coaches hadn’t been interviewed at all and the trail had been manufactured to distract us from a recording of Carl Knox’s former secretary. Mind you, it’s just a theory. As for why someone might want to distract us from a potential recording of Carl Knox’s former secretary, I do not know.

        The good news is that there’s a way to figure out if my theory is correct. I’ve submitted a follow-up public records request for documents from the Oral History Project, and most specifically, the consent forms that were signed by everyone who was interviewed throughout that project. On our last trip, one of the volunteers had discovered consent forms signed by several of the hockey coaches plus another person affiliated with the hockey program. At that point, we didn’t have hockey on our brains, so she noted it, but we didn’t dig further. On my next trip, I’ll be copying all of the forms signed by hockey coaches. I’ll also check to see who the Oral History Project representative was who signed the bottom of those forms. And then I’ll start reaching out to those people. If the hockey coaches are able to tell me about a time when they all sat down for an interview, fine. My theory will fall apart. But if they should say something like “we signed the forms in advance of an interview but the interview never happened,” well, then my theory will hold. I have some other possible ways to get to the answer as well.

        I disagree strongly with your opinion on misplaced records. It’s not nothing. It’s very much a big deal. Especially in an archives. Public records acts such as Ohio’s Sunshine Law, the federal Freedom of Information Act, and yes, the Presidential Records Act of 1978 are on the books to uphold transparency and accountability in government institutions. Perhaps lost records happen “a lot more than it should” in the police precinct where you worked (I hope not, but we’ll take your word for it), but I consider that extremely problematic. I also see that we disagree about the grassy knoll, but let’s not go there today, OK? 😏

        Thanks for your comment, and Happy Labor Day, everyone.

  4. My other half is a Miami Alum. Six degrees, all from Miami. He is not a sports person. So I just asked him how big hockey was at Miami, and he said from his perspective, it always seemed to be the #1 sport. When I mentioned the missing tape to him, he broke out laughing because it seems so absurd that it’s missing.

    Although he did float another idea- maybe some super fan made off with it?

    1. I mean….. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. But, that seems so bizarre. Nevertheless, if I could chat with some of the hockey coaches who signed a consent form, they would be able to help a lot.

  5. So the “Cradle of Coaches” cannot locate a recording about coaches which was done as part of a bicentennial project. Where’s my sarcasm font for this -> That’s not suspicious in the least. 🙂

  6. Hi!

    Just a quick thought. I don’t really remember how camcorders worked, but I’d guess that’s what they would have used to film the interviews… do you think the tape has to be one or the other? Could it be both? For instance, if they interviewed a few hockey coaches, saw that they still had some room left on the tape, and recorded an interview with the secretary at the end?

    Would that have been common practice, to use up the remaining space on something unrelated to avoid wasting tapes, or do you think they would have started a new one even for a brief interview?

    1. Great great question. That wasn’t how they were doing it from their descriptions, but anything is possible. When I watch the tape, I’ll be sure to watch it until the very end.

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