Football

Mater Dei High School hazing case resolved but new assault case against coach surfaces

A lawsuit that propelled Mater Dei High School into the national spotlight and raised questions about the culture of the school’s football and sports programs and whether coaches, school administrators and Diocese of Orange officials place athletic success and image over student safety has been resolved, according to Orange County Superior Court records.

In a move that is usually indicative of an out-of-court settlement, the case was dismissed on January 11 after an attorney for a former Mater Dei football player, who suffered traumatic brain injuries during an alleged hazing incident, asked the court to dismiss “with prejudice” his client’s suit against Mater Dei and the diocese.

Reporting by the Orange County Register and the lawsuit thrust Mater Dei into the center of a controversy and debate that continues to this date over the priorities of the largest coed Roman Catholic high school west of the Mississippi and the organization that operates it, the Diocese of Orange.

While what became known as the “Bodies” case in a reference to an alleged hazing ritual within the Monarch football program, Mater Dei’s legal problems are far from over.

A referee at the Ladera Ranch Sports Complex is alleging he was attacked by a coach for Mater Dei’s boys basketball travel ball program during a February 2021 pre-season game, just days after the Monarch football player was allegedly assaulted by a teammate in the hazing incident.

Kirk Davidson, a coach for Big Red, Mater Dei’s longtime offseason travel ball club, lunged at Sebastian Burks, the referee, striking him and causing him to fall backward, striking his head on metal bleachers, according to a lawsuit filed against Davidson, Mater Dei, Big Red LLC, and the diocese in Orange County Superior Court.

Burks suffered cuts, abrasions, bruises, a traumatic brain injury and required five staples in the back of his head, according to the suit.

The suit alleges assault and battery, negligence and negligent hiring and supervision.

Davidson is a former BYU and Nevada basketball player and ex-Santa Margarita High School assistant. He is the father of current Mater Dei standout Zack Davidson, who has committed to Montana, and Nick Davidson, a former Mater Dei player now playing for Nevada.

Attempts to contact Kirk Davidson were unsuccessful.

Mater Dei did not respond to a request for comment. An attorney for Burks also did not respond to a request for comment.

A Register report in November 2021 detailed how a Mater Dei football player punched a teammate, 50 pounds lighter than him, three times in the face during an alleged hazing ritual called “Bodies” on Feb. 4, 2021, while other Monarchs players shouted racial epithets at the smaller player, according to two videos of the altercation obtained by the Register.

The parents of the smaller played filed suit against the school and diocese in Orange County Superior Court in November 2021.

The Santa Ana Police Department recommended the larger player be prosecuted for felony battery, according to a police report. The Orange County District Attorney’s Office does not intend to file charges in the case. Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said the altercation does not meet the legal standards for criminal “hazing” or felony assault, but he was willing to consider additional evidence.

“If I had a hundred dollars for every time these kids played Bodies or Slappies, I’d be a millionaire,” Mater Dei football coach Bruce Rollinson told the injured player’s father the day after the altercation, according to a court filing.

Mater Dei officials initially declined to cooperate with Santa Ana Police Department investigators, according to police reports. Rollinson and Kevin Kiernan, the school’s athletic director, did not agree to be interviewed by a Santa Ana Police Department investigator until April 21, 2021, more than two months after the altercation and when the Santa Ana PD first requested information from the school, and only with Mater Dei assistant principal for student services Miguel Gutierrez present, according to police reports.

Rollinson during the police interview denied hazing existed in the Mater Dei program. He added that the interview was the first time he had heard of the Bodies game. But in a sworn deposition last year, former Mater Dei athletic director Amanda Waters said when she confronted Rollinson about the incident the coach “said if I had a dollar for every time these kids played bodies, I’d be a millionaire.”

“So he didn’t say a hundred, he said a dollar – if I had a dollar for every time,” Waters continued.

Diocese spokesman Jarryd Gonzales said, “We won’t be offering a comment.”

The Bodies incident and other reporting by the Register detailing allegations of assaults, hazing, sexual harassment, racial slurs, and vandalism by Mater Dei athletes prompted then Mater Dei president Father Walter Jenkins in November 2021 to commission an investigation into the school’s athletic culture.

The Register also reported that Rollinson, principal Frances Clare and other Mater Dei coaches, officials and employees were aware of inappropriate behavior by athletes but either ignored it or failed to take effective action, according to depositions and police reports.

Although Jenkins, who was later forced out, and current Mater Dei president Mike Brennan vowed to make the investigation’s final report available to the public, Brennan and Mater Dei refused to release the report last month, a move the diocese said it supported.

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