Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson
Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson, center, reacts after defeating Servite for the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title on Friday. (LA Times)
Recreation & Sports

Football hazing followup: CIF, Orange County DA defend their responses to the Mater Dei fight

CIF and the Orange County DA issued statements defending their responses to a locker room fight highlighted in a Mater Dei hazing lawsuit.

As pressure increases on Santa Ana Mater Dei following a lawsuit alleging there is a culture of hazing at the school, the California Interscholastic Federation released a statement on Tuesday condemning hazing but also stating it’s up to schools to investigate misconduct.

“The CIF condemns hazing and maintains that such conduct has no place in the educational setting,” the statement read. “Hazing can be both physically and emotionally harmful, and schools should take the necessary steps to prevent and eliminate it from their school environment.

“On-campus student misconduct involving a violation of a school’s code of conduct and/or State law falls within the responsibility of the school’s administration to investigate and address. The CIF will not comment further on the allegations of hazing regarding Mater Dei High School.”

Mater Dei’s football team has advanced to the CIF state championship Open Division bowl game Dec. 11 against San Mateo Serra. Coach Bruce Rollinson has declined to comment on a February fight highlighted in the lawsuit and captured by two videos. The lawsuit states a first-year football player was urged to participate in “bodies,” a fight among teammates during which blows are supposed to be limited to the torso.

The player agreed and was struck repeatedly in the head by a bigger player, according to video viewed by The Times, leading to a traumatic brain injury. The lawsuit states Rollinson acknowledged the players participated in “bodies” frequently, the staff delayed medical treatment for the injured player, the staff declined to assist with a law enforcement investigation into the fight, and the school tried to block the student from participating in CIF sports after transferring to another school.

Father Walter Jenkins, the president of Mater Dei, released a letter Wednesday that stated the school was limited in how it could respond due to pending litigation and privacy laws.

“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,” Jenkins wrote. “At this time, I respectfully ask for your faith and trust as we navigate the process ahead.”

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer issued a statement on Tuesday explaining why his office declined to file charges regarding the fight.

“Neither player involved in this fight was made to participate against their will,” the statement read. “Other players in the locker room were seen milling around, playing on their phones and largely uninterested in the punches being thrown by two of their teammates. The participants knew they were being filmed and they started throwing punches. Some punches landed; others did not, but it is unequivocally clear that both participants attempted to land as many punches as possible.

“There is not a single shred of evidence to show that this was anything other than a mutual combat situation with two willing participants who traded blow for blow, including repeated punches to each other’s heads.

“That does not make it acceptable. But it is not a crime.”

The statement added: “What happened in the Mater Dei locker room on February 4, 2021 is nothing anyone should be proud of and it falls short of the kind of character any of us should wish for our children. This incident has been thoroughly investigated by law enforcement and reviewed blow by blow by the most experienced prosecutors in my office to see if we could prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. We cannot.”

The lawsuit backs up its hazing accusation by stating the injured player “acquiesced to Teammate 1’s goading” and participated in the fight “in an effort to fit in and show he was tough enough to be part of his new team”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.