A Minn. high school senior hockey player who transferred from a prep school after years of bullying had his varsity hockey eligibility reinstated this week, just hours after he had filed a lawsuit against his old school and the Minnesota State High School League.
The student filed the suit anonymously on Tuesday.
As the Duluth News Tribune and other outlets report, the suit claims that Hill-Murray School (Maplewood, Minn.) officials pledged to support his plans to play hockey at another private school but then blocked his eligibility at Gentry Academy (Vadnais Heights, Minn.).
MSHSL rules state that transfer students generally must sit out a year before competing in varsity sports, the News Tribune reports, but that there is an exemption for students who have been bullied. That exception, however, requires leaders from both schools to make a written request.
The teen’s complaint details persistent bullying by hockey teammates throughout high school.
According to the suit, a Hill-Murray investigation corroborated many of the student’s allegations, including harassment through ridicule, abusive name-calling and exclusion, as well as on-ice play that targeted him physically. The suit said that behavior against the player, identified as John Doe, escalated from bullying in his freshman year into this year, when teammates kicked and threw food at his truck and spit on it.
Per the Suit as reported by the News Tribune, teammates also froze him out of team communications and told him the wrong time the bus would be leaving from the hotel during this year’s state hockey tournament.
Following an investigation this fall, per the News Tribune, Hill-Murray was preparing to suspend the bullies for one game each, but ultimately required them to participate in a restorative justice program instead.
While the school originally pledged in a September email to the player’s father that they “would not block the MSHSL from allowing him to be eligible to play at another school” if he chose to transfer, according to the complaint,” officials refused to sign off on the family’s account of the bullying last week, citing “exaggerations, inaccuracies and misquotes.” The MSHL also initially denied the teen’s eligibility.
Hill-Murray President Jim Hansen told the News Tribune on Wednesday that he’s “happy to stand by” his earlier statements that the family’s version of events was inaccurate and exaggerated.
The eligibility matter is now resolved, but the family is still pursuing the suit as it claims the player was defamed, retaliated against and discriminated against in a hostile environment on the basis of perceived sexual orientation.