Mater Dei High School is preparing for another championship game Friday evening, with the Orange County football powerhouse embroiled in a hazing scandal that has prompted the family a former player to sue the school over his injuries.
The family alleges that the former player — who has not been identified — was severely injured in a team hazing ritual known as “Bodies” in which two players repeatedly land body punches on each other until one surrenders.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Orange County Superior Court, accuses the team’s coach, Bruce Rollinson, of having an “outrageous” dismissive attitude about the “dangers created by Bodies,” the Orange County Register reported.
“This is especially true in light of the fact that the administration and coaches at Mater Dei valued the school’s status as a nationally recognized football powerhouse over the health and safety of its minor athletes,” the suit states, according to the newspaper.
The suit alleges negligence, negligence per se-hazing in violation of California penal code, negligent failure to warn, train, or educate, intentional infliction of emotional distress.
According to the paper, the then-Mater Dei player took part in the Bodies ritual in February, squaring off against a teammate who was 50 pounds heavier.
The smaller player — identified only as Player 1 — suffered a traumatic brain injury, two gashes over his right eye, one over his left eye and a broken nose that required surgery, according to The Register, which reviewed four police reports, surgeon’s reports, medical records, emails from Mater Dei, letters, forms, records, memos, two videos and court filings.
Player 1 later withdrew from Mater Dei. The other player involved, Player 2, remains on the team.
According to the Register, court documents contend that Rollinson told Player 1’s family that he was in a “bind” in terms of disciplining Player 2, because that player’s father is a volunteer coach for the team.
The paper reported that Mater Dei officials initially declined to cooperate with Santa Ana Police Department investigators looking into the fight, and during later interviews with police, denied hazing existed in the Mater Dei football program.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office declined to file any charges over the fight that led to Player 1’s injuries, saying in part that it viewed the altercation as a case of mutual combat, the Register reported.
In a statement to the Register, Mater Dei officials said, “An independent, thorough investigation was conducted. We are unable to comment further due to the involvement of minors.”
The Rev. Walter E. Jenkins, the school’s president, wrote a letter to the school’s “parents, students and friends” on Wednesday, declaring, “Nothing is more important to me than the health, safety, security, and well-being of all students entrusted to our care at Mater Dei High School.”
“It pains me to hear about any student suffering harm of any kind on our campus,” Jenkins wrote, after acknowledging “in light of pending litigation and privacy constraints, I am limited in my ability to address the matter with our community.”
“My heartfelt prayers go out to the affected student and family. Please know that we take the matter seriously and commit to you that all aspects will be handled consistently and in accordance with the core values of our institution.
“At this time, I respectfully ask for your faith and trust as we navigate the process ahead, and kindly request that you respect the privacy and dignity of all involved.”
Mater Dei (10-0) plays Servite (10-2) on Friday night in the Southern Section Division I championship game at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach.
On Thursday, as many as 100 former Mater Dei players attended the team’s practice, invited by Rollinson to show support. The coach declined to comment to a Register reporter about the newspaper’s allegations that he falsely told police in April that he was unaware of his players participating in the hazing activity.
“We’re excited. We had a great practice. We are prepared. We know what we have to do,” Rollinson said to the parents, players and fans on the practice field Thursday morning, according to the Register. “Our focus is not just on Servite. Our focus is to win the championship tomorrow night. That is the only thing that we care about and we will take care of business and we will lift that plaque high tomorrow night.”