By Jeff Lehr
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
The parents of a Seneca High School student are suing the school district over a hazing he received at the hands of upperclassmen on his football team during a camp on the Pittsburg State University campus two years ago.
The lawsuit was filed April 11 in Crawford County District Court on behalf of Paul and Kristi Smith and their son, who is now 16.
The student was a freshman on the team that attended a football camp at PSU along with their coaches June 9-11, 2010. The players were put up in dormitory rooms while the coaches stayed in a motel, according to the lawsuit.
During the afternoon of the second day, some upperclassmen on the team herded younger players into the basement of the dormitory and forced them to run a gauntlet in which they were allegedly struck with fists and plastic window blind rods.
The lawsuit states that the student, who was just 14 at the time, sustained “severe lacerations, bruising, welts and scarring” as a consequence of the hazing.
When news of the hazing first broke, there were allegations that some of the older players placed their genitals in the faces of some of the younger team members. The lawsuit does not state that student was a victim of any sexual abuse or misconduct.
The boy’s parents could not be reached for comment, but their attorney, Fred Spigarelli, said the school district has yet to respond to the lawsuit in court.
“We’re taking the approach there is no sovereign immunity in Kansas,” Spigarelli said.
Tort claims law in Kansas allows lawsuits against governmental agencies with certain exceptions. Spigarelli said he does not believe this case fits any of those exceptions, although the school district may see it differently.
The coaches who were supposed to be supervising the team were “nowhere to be found” when the hazing was taking place, according to the lawsuit. As a consequence, the younger players suffered “repeated and savage bodily beatings,” the document states.
The plaintiffs allege that the district failed to adequately train its coaches and volunteers to detect, prevent or respond to hazing and bullying, and failed to adequately protect its students from the assault of their upperclassmen.
The lawsuit seeks $75,000, plus the costs of the litigation to the plaintiffs.
“I’m aware of it,” Seneca schools Superintendent Steve Wilmoth said of the court action. “But it will be dealt with by our insurance company, I’m sure, and I don’t have any comment about it.”
A Pittsburg Police Department investigation of the incident identified 17 alleged victims and led to charges being filed against 11 players. Several of the accused were convicted of misdemeanor counts of battery. Charges were dropped against two of the players and one was acquitted in a trial.
Twelve players were suspended or expelled by the school district, and the coaches who chaperoned the trip to the camp were placed on probation for one year by the district board.