Flicked Out of Court

Jurors rule against a former HBU basketballer in his hazing suit

A former Houston Baptist University basketball player who sued the school over what he claimed were excessive hazing practices has been shut out by a Harris County jury.

Matt Wohlfahrt claimed HBU players forced him to drink excessively, shaved his head against his will and engaged in other harassment during his 1997 stint on the team (see "Full Court Press," October 25, 2001). Wohlfahrt's suit also said HBU officials were aware of the incidents and did little to investigate further or punish any of the coaches or players.

After a two-week trial before state District Judge Jennifer Elrod, a jury on August 14 found the university had not been negligent and awarded no damages to Wohlfahrt.

"It's really sad. It sends a message to HBU that they can just keep on doing whatever they want," said Lynn Wohlfahrt. "One of Matt's reasons for doing this lawsuit was to try to get the message out that these things are going on and should be stopped." She was speaking on behalf of her son Matt, who would not talk to the Houston Press.

In court documents and depositions, HBU officials and players painted Lynn Wohlfahrt as an ultra-aggressive, overly emotional woman who could not accept that her son was not as talented as others on the team.

Matt Wohlfahrt had a quarter-scholarship to HBU -- one the university said was normally reserved for team trainers -- although in his deposition he said he thought he was skilled enough to eventually play in Europe's professional leagues.

In September 1997, his freshman year, he went to what he called a "team meeting" at an HBU player's off-campus apartment. The university said it was simply a party.

At the apartment, Wohlfahrt, who said he had never consumed alcohol before coming to HBU, drank a half-dozen shots of a licorice-tasting liquor within ten minutes. He says he ended up almost drowning in the apartment complex's pool and suffered a head injury, two claims disputed by other party attendees.

After his mother demanded an investigation, Wohlfahrt said, he was subjected to regular harassment from players, including midnight runs through women's dorms wearing only underwear, as well as having his scrotum flicked by teammates. Players said such incidents were simply good-natured initiation rites.

Wohlfahrt eventually quit the team and now attends the University of North Texas in Denton. His mother said he still suffers emotional problems from his experience, which he called in a deposition "probably the worst time in my life."

HBU was represented by Trey Williams, who did not return phone calls. He had always been confident the school would prevail in a lawsuit. "I think it's pretty clear that Mr. Wohlfahrt's characterization of events is not accurate," he said last year. "We're comfortable with the facts, and the facts can't support the allegations."

Lynn Wohlfahrt said her son had not decided whether to appeal the verdict.

 
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