Lawsuit: Lake Zurich sports hazing goes back nearly two decades
Incidents of hazing among members of Lake Zurich High School athletic teams go back nearly two decades with knowledge of coaches and other officials, according to a federal lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of two football players and their parents.
The players, listed as Doe Children A and B in documents, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Chicago against Lake Zurich Unit District 95, Superintendent Kaine Osburn, former football head coach and physical education teacher David Proffitt and other defendants.
District 95 is accused of allowing hazing and bullying to occur in the football team locker room last year. The suit alleges Lake Zurich High sports programs have had hazing rituals and traditions dating to at least 1997, and they were known to coaches well before an Oct. 27 incident with football players became public.
Football team bonding rituals over the past 20 years have included players urinating on teammates or placing their genitals on their faces without consent, according to the 67-page complaint seeking monetary and other damages. The suit also claims the Lake Zurich High football team has had players force teammates to perform oral sex in past years.
Bullying and hazing also has occurred among members of the school's boys cross-country and wrestling squads, the suit alleges. Examples include a wrestling team tradition called "Birthday Beatdowns," in which coaches and students would beat, kick, chase, punch, and harass the birthday person.
Attorney Antonio Romanucci, who represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said at a news conference Wednesday the two players suffered emotional and physical abuse in the 2016 football season. He contends they were not alone.
"I don't think there is any doubt whatsoever that there are other victims," Romanucci said. "I am clear and convinced that there are other victims. However, as I've learned throughout these cases, many of these victims either will not come forward or they will come forward but will not proceed to the (lawsuit) level where we're at right here because of continued fear."
Neither the players nor their parents attended Wednesday's news conference.
District 95 officials issued a statement indicating that "standard protocol is that the district will not comment publicly on pending litigation."
The district is committed to creating a positive culture that does not tolerate hazing of any kind, the statement reads. Officials have said District 95 already has taken steps to address hazing and made changes in an effort to ensure the safety of students in high school dressing rooms.
Proffitt, who resigned last month, denied any knowledge of prior hazing by team members.
"I have no idea what they are talking about," Proffitt said of the lawsuit's claims. "That is not true, at least from my perspective. I can't speak for other coaches, though."
Romanucci said "sources" provided information about the hazing dating to 1997 during his law firm's investigation.
Lake Zurich police documents show a criminal sexual abuse investigation was launched Nov. 8 while law enforcement looked into the hazing claims. Many sections of the police documents were blacked out. Police announced in December they did not have evidence to pursue charges against any athletes, in part due to a lack of cooperation from witnesses.
The lawsuit alleges Doe Child A was forced into the Lake Zurich High locker room shower and abused by football teammates in 2016. Doe Child B was sexually abused by another student before 2016 and was targeted in the Oct. 27 hazing, the suit states.
According to the lawsuit, Doe Child A's parents had a telephone conference call about the purported abuse of their son on Oct. 4 with Chad Beaver, who resigned as high school dean and assistant football coach last month. Beaver, who couldn't be located for comment Wednesday, responded that 14 teammates witnessed what occurred, that it "happens all the time" and "even I got peed on in high school," according to the lawsuit.
Romanucci commended his clients for coming forward.
"As a result, these students were not only placed in danger during the school year by being abused sexually, but they were brutally mocked and teased as a result of what they had done in terms of revealing what was happening to them and others," he said.
In addition to Proffitt, the District 95 board last month accepted the resignations of Beaver and athletic director Rolando Vazquez. Beaver's resignation became effective Jan. 20, while Vazquez remains with the district until the academic year ends.
District 95 last week received results from an outside investigation led by the Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick and Kohn law firm of Arlington Heights. The report noted the football team's hazing and made several recommendations on how to try to prevent similar activity in the future.
School officials ordered the law firm's probe because of what they called inappropriate and "egregious" behavior in the football locker room Oct, 27.
Football players and their parents had to sign a student behavior agreement before a Nov. 5 playoff game against Fenwick High School or be prohibited from participating in the rest of the 2016 season. Lake Zurich lost the playoff game.