Full Court Press

Was it a harmless HBU jock initiation -- or hard-core hazing -- that shattered a freshman's hoop dreams?

Yarabeck called Cottrell and told him to investigate. He began calling players into his office, but as the weeks went on there seemed to be little desire to dig very deep into the matter, Lynn Wohlfahrt says.

Unimpressed with Cottrell's reaction, she continued to call Yarabeck and President Hudo's office.

Meanwhile, she says, her son got harassed by teammates who now thought of him as a squealer; his playing time was nonexistent; and the school's reaction seemed to be a general shrug of the shoulders. "John Yarabeck told me, 'Boys will be boys,' " she says.

Freshman basketball players got their heads shaved at a team party.
Hadley Hooper
Freshman basketball players got their heads shaved at a team party.

Any punishment would have to be decided by the school administration, and Yarabeck submitted a formal report on January 14, 1998. He determined players were guilty of hazing by encouraging freshmen to drink and shaving their heads.

Head coach Cottrell and assistant coach Steven Key knew nothing about events, Yarabeck concluded (although Key admitted he sometimes wrestled with players who were juniors and seniors); he found that assistant coach Grissom admitted he heard players' heads might be shaved at the party, and assumed there'd be alcohol involved.

Yarabeck's report recommended that the team be required to do ten hours of community service, with some doing an extra ten. (Vincent's extra ten was reduced to five "because of his cooperation during the investigation.") Coach Cottrell was to schedule a hazing clinic for coaches. ("It was clear to me," Yarabeck wrote in his report, "that coaches were not certain what constituted hazing.")

Lynn Wohlfahrt insists not one of the punishments was carried out.

In their depositions, players could not cite any community service they had done, and assistant coach Key admitted he doesn't have an understanding of the current HBU policy on hazing. Although Texas has an antihazing law on the books, no law enforcement officials were notified about the allegations.

Williams, the school's lawyer, says punishments were handed out. "What needed to happen happened, and all that will come out in court," he says.

Lynn Wohlfahrt says the school never apologized to her son, either. And she's not sure, at this point, whether it would make any difference.

"Matt lives with this every day," she says. "If the school would have shown some remorse, I'm not sure how big a factor that would have been in Matt's mind."

Her son still has nightmares over the incidents, she says. He's now a junior seeking a business degree the University of North Texas in Denton. A neuropsychological study done by psychiatrist Robert Borda shows Wohlfahrt still has problems with word generation and retrieval that "should at least raise the suspicion of an organic personality disorder stemming from the reported head injuries…" "I am very concerned," he continued, "about how Matt will do after he leaves the highly structured academic environment."

Matt's father, Douglas Wohlfahrt, says his son still suffers from a shoulder injury he got while being wrestled on the bus and that he may face testicular surgery. "And if he gets another head injury, he could wind up like Muhammad Ali," he says.

HBU's lawyer disputes the existence or severity of Wohlfahrt's injuries; players testified that Matt never complained about blows to his head or lasting shoulder pain. Williams, the defense lawyer, hints at baser motives for Wohlfahrt when he notes that "we are very far apart on what any settlement would be."

He and the Wohlfahrt family wouldn't say how much Wohlfahrt is seeking in damages.

Financial awards are not unheard of in such suits. Two years ago the University of Texas settled a hazing suit for $1.65 million. A fraternity pledge claimed he had been beaten, spat on, urinated upon and shoved into a wall at the Kappa Alpha frat house, causing head injuries that trigger short-term memory problems.

Wohlfahrt's suit against HBU and Cottrell -- various players have been dropped as defendants since it was filed two years ago -- says the school and coach were negligent for inadequately supervising the athletes. The defendants should have known what was going on and failed to enforce HBU's code against hazing, says the suit, which is before state District Judge John Devine.

As might be expected, the relationship between the Wohlfahrts and the school did not end amicably.

Matt played at the tail end of two games -- just enough to cost him a year's worth of athletic eligibility at another school, the Wohlfahrts contended. (The NAIA eventually gave him a waiver restoring full eligibility, partly through the encouragement of HBU.) The Huskies didn't miss a beat as they went on to a 25-6 record and a Top Ten finish in the final NAIA rankings.

Lynn Wohlfahrt says the coaches never had any complaints about Matt's ability until after she requested the hazing investigation. Things got ugly fast when she and her son met with all three coaches on December 14, 1997.

Matt said he doesn't remember that Sunday-night meeting, although when asked if his mother was yelling as she walked out of it, he answered, "Knowing her, probably."

Others said Matt hardly spoke a word during the ten-minute session. "My general feeling was she was objecting to Matt not playing as much as she felt like he should, that his skill level was that of one who should be starting," head coach Cottrell said. "I explained to her that Matt was a long way from being that type of player and may never be that type of player."

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Sort: Newest | Oldest
Houston Concert Tickets