Mater Dei president asks for trust after report of hazing that left football player with brain injury

Mater Dei High School’s president asked parents and students for their “faith and trust” Wednesday, Nov. 24, amid growing calls for the dismissal of Monarchs head football coach Bruce Rollinson following an Orange County Register report detailing a violent hazing incident involving two players earlier this year.

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

The Register is not identifying the players involved because of their age.

The smaller athlete, Player 1, suffered a traumatic head injury, a broken nose and wounds above each eye, according to medical records. The Santa Ana Police Department recommended the larger player, Player 2, 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.

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

Player 1’s family filed a lawsuit against Mater Dei High School and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in Orange County Superior Court on Tuesday, Nov. 23. The suit alleges negligence, negligence per se-hazing in violation of the California penal code, negligent failure to warn, train or educate, intentional infliction of emotional distress.

“Maybe they will say the right thing and they might even do the right thing if forced,” Michael Reck, an attorney for Player 1, said of the Mater Dei administration.

Mater Dei, ranked No. 1 nationally by USA Today, meets Servite on Friday night in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship game.

The Register report has prompted calls for the removal of Rollinson, Mater Dei principal Frances Clare and other school administrators and employees.

In a letter to parents, students and “Friends” of the school Wednesday, Walter Jenkins, Mater Dei’s president, wrote, “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. As many of you may have seen, recent media coverage references deeply disturbing accusations about our football program and administration, suggesting they acted in conflict with our steadfast commitment to student safety. In light of pending litigation and privacy constraints, I am limited in my ability to address the matter with our community.

“It pains me to hear about any student suffering harm of any kind on our campus. 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.”

Jenkins became the school’s president on July 1.

“So I will need to speak with administration members who were around in the Spring,” Jenkins wrote in an email to the Register. “That will take some time since school is closed this week but we will respond as soon as we can.

“Since the individuals in question were likely younger than 18, at least at the time of the incident, we will only be able to respond within their legal rights.”

David Angel, a Santa Ana PD investigator, contacted Clare and Miguel Gutierrez, Mater Dei’s assistant principal for student services, on Feb. 11, and informed them of a criminal complaint against Player 2.

“Principal Clare said they were aware of the incident and they were conducting their own internal investigation,” Angel wrote in his report on the conversation. “I told them I needed to speak with the parties involved, along with witnesses to the incident. Assistant Principal Gutierrez told me that he would not be able to provide me with any information regarding the incident. He could not provide me with any names, date, details of the battery, or any circumstances surrounding the incident.”

Angel was finally able to interview Rollinson and Kevin Kiernan, the school’s athletic director, with Gutierrez present on April 21, 69 days after Angel first reached out to Clare and Gutierrez, 76 days since the altercation.

According to a police report on the interviews, Rollinson said, “Angel, we have no hazing on our program. Never have, never will. I’ve been head for 32 years. Honestly, I’ve never even heard the word hazing used since 1989.”

The report also stated Rollinson said that this was “the first time he has heard of any of his players participating in the ‘Bodies’ game where participants punch each other until someone quits.”

Gutierrez is now a high school administrator in the Seattle area.

Angel also interviewed former Mater Dei athletic director Amanda Waters. Waters told Angel that hazing and bullying were not tolerated at Mater Dei. Waters resigned on March 24 after just nine months in the position. She now works at a school in Georgia.

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