PHILADELPHIA — The longtime chairman of the Pennsylvania Board of Education has resigned amid accusations that he pursued sexual relationships with teenage girls more than 35 years ago, when he was in his late 20s and early 30s and a university crew coach.
Two women told The Philadelphia Inquirer they had long-term sexual relationships with Larry Wittig beginning when they were 16 and 17. One of the women, Annette DeMichele, said her relationship with Wittig started in 1981, the summer after her high school graduation, and continued at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was her rowing coach.
She told the newspaper her relationship felt consensual at the time but, given the age difference and his role as her coach, she now believes she was coerced.
Gov. Tom Wolf accepted Wittig’s resignation on Thursday.
“The alleged behavior that has come to light is reprehensible,” J.J. Abbott, Wolf’s spokesman, said in a statement.
Wittig, 68, denied the accusations to The Inquirer. Wittig, who was acquitted in 1972 of raping a 15-year-old girl, did not immediately return a phone call from The Associated Press.
Wittig was appointed to the board, which has broad authority over Pennsylvania education policy, in 2001. He was named chairman in 2011.
A second woman, who declined to be named by The Inquirer, said Wittig began a sexual relationship with her when she was 16 and he was 29. She said the relationship lasted about two years.
DeMichele said she met Wittig during her senior year in high school, when he volunteered to train the rowing team. Other high school teammates of DeMichele’s said that Wittig made sexual advances on them, too.
Sarah Dahlgren said the day after high school graduation, Wittig accompanied her and DeMichele on a trip to San Diego for a rowing competition and took them to a nude beach. Dahlgren said Wittig stuck his hand between her legs on that trip but she pushed him away.
Wittig was charged in 1970 with raping his sister’s 15-year-old friend. He said this week the girl made up the story to try to extort money from his family. The accuser insisted to the newspaper that Wittig raped her.