A former high school baseball player from New Jersey is suing his previous coach and school district for allegedly creating a culture of bullying. It comes after other former students say they tried to get the administration's attention about the matter.
David DeFranco, who graduated from Columbia High School last June, filed his suit last week against his former school, baseball coaches and the South Orange-Maplewood school district.
Other former players and parents say they have long been complaining about coach Joe Fischetti. Grainy video shown to NBC 4 New York Thursday shows the coach speaking aggressively to his team last year: "Don't question about why I do what I do, that's horse----."
Randy Nathan, whose son, Alex, is a former player, said the administration investigated Fischetti and found six instances when Alex was bullied or harassed. It's not clear what, if any, consqeuences Fischetti faced after the probe, as officials cited a private personnel matter.
Nathan said Alex started as a junior, but was cut as a senior when his father spoke up for others making bullying claims. The effects on his son have been noticeable.
"He's an angry kid; it's taking a long time. He, even to this day, he has some challenges from his transition as a freshman in college," said Nathan. "It's very sad."
DeFranco's lawsuit makes similar claims about Fischetti. It says he was cut from the baseball team his senior season because he complained about a bullying problem the previous year.
He was only allowed back on the team after he suggested to school officials he was cut for this reason, and that coaches made sexist, racist and demeaning comments to the baseball team players, the suit states. Four coaches even allegedly cornered DeFranco to interrogate him about his complaints.
School and district officials didn't step in, despite his and other players' complaints, the lawsuit adds.
The problem, DeFranco alleges, continued this year, evidenced by a sign posted in the school's locker room that singles out "losers" who "complain."
"It's ridiculous how frequently the board was on notice and did nothing," Jeffrey Youngman, an attorney representing DeFranco, told NJ.com.
The allegations of bullying came to a head at a school board meeting last year. But the coach, who won a championship last year, had his defenders at the same meeting.
"They were my teachers on the baseball field. They helped me through experience on the baseball field and off the baseball field," one former student said.
While Nathan has been frustrated by the more-than-yearlong investigation, the school system has athletic reforms on next Monday's agenda. Officials say they've since taken steps to fully comply with a 2011 law passed in order to curtail harassment and bullying.
"Over the last few months, the Board has drafted several policy changes that impact our athletic programs including on Athletic Department and Coaches, Sportsmanship, Athletic Code of Conduct, and Volunteer Athletic Coaches," district spokeswoman Suzanne Turner said.
"The health, safety and wellbeing of all of our students — whether in the classroom, or on the field of play — is our highest priority," she added.
But Nathan is not convinced.
"They don't care about respect, they don't care about character," he said. "What they care about is winning, and becacuse they think they know how to win, they're going to do whatever they can to destroy kids."
The coach and his staff declined to speak to NBC 4 New York, and a school spokesman said Fischetti's status this year is a personnel matter.