PARKERSBURG - Testimony began Tuesday in Wood County Circuit Court in a case brought against the Wood County Board of Education and the coach of the Parkersburg South High School freshman football team.
In 2010, then-freshman Adam Cross alleges he was in a fight with a teammate, Drake Miller, in the locker room after a practice session on Oct. 20 and the coach, Dwain Sponseller, did nothing to stop the fight.
In opening statements, Cross' attorney Jim Leach said the fight lasted 22 seconds and was recorded by a team member who had a cell phone available. Leach said other players alleged the coach had instructed the player who was fighting with Cross to hit him in drills and then said no when he was asked by one player if he was going to do anything to stop the fight.
Adam Cross, left, and his attorney Jim Leach listen during testimony in the civil case Cross filed against the Wood County Board of Education and a coach at Parkersburg South High School. (Photo by Jeffrey Saulton)
"The right coach could have stopped it with a word, but the wrong coach did nothing," Leach said.
After the fight, Leach said, Cross was unconscious and suffered a nasal fracture and hemorrhages in the brain and eye.
"The schools have a responsibility for safety to our children," Leach said. "He has $33,000 in medical bills, has had multiple surgeries and MRIs."
When a student is knocked unconscious in a game, Leach said, the policy calls for the player to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance. After the fight, he said, Cross was given an ice pack, the laceration on his forehead was treated by the team's athletic trainer and his father was called to take him home.
"When his father arrived his grandmother was with him and she said he needed to go to the hospital," Leach said. "They took him to the hospital and he was admitted."
Kimberly Bandy, who is one of the attorneys representing the board of education and Sponseller, said allegations Sponseller allowed the fight and did nothing to stop it were not true.
Bandy said Sponseller was not in the locker room at the Erickson All-Sports Facility when the fight began but was outside waiting on the varsity practice and was called back to the locker room by one of the players.
"He was called in and saw the crowd at the end of the locker room," she said. "They consented to the fight."
Both Bandy and Leach said Cross and Miller were suspended from school in the incident.
"Cross had surgery and all went well," she said. "Drake Miller has taken responsibility for it and feels bad about; he was upset with Cross for picking on others and he will deny he was instructed to hit Cross in practice or given permission to start a fight."
Bandy said since the incident Cross and Miller have become friends.
Sponseller was the first witness in court Tuesday.
In his testimony Sponseller denied the allegations he instructed Miller to hit Cross in drills and said he did not give permission for the fight.
Sponseller said he was not aware of any confrontations between the two. He said he was out of the locker room and was called back by two players saying there was a fight and he was needed.
When he arrived in the locker room, Sponseller said, he could not tell what was going on at first. He said when he got to Cross he was lying on the floor conscious.
"He was bleeding and shaking," he said. "I told someone to call for help and nobody moved so I got the trainer and I was there until the parents arrived."
Sponseller said the trainer advised Cross' father to take him to the hospital.
Later Sponseller said he was questioned in the principal's office and was removed from coaching the team until the investigation was finished.
"I was told I was cleared and was returned to coaching," he said.
Sponseller said he is still teaching history at the school but is no longer a football coach.
Rick Leach, athletic director at Parkersburg South High School, said at first he did not know there had been a fight between two freshmen football players.
"From what I hear I thought maybe someone slipped in the shower or in the locker room," he said. "I saw kids coming out and heard yelling."
Rick Leach said the school resources officer Todd Lambiotte investigated and Sponseller was cleared. Rick Leach said the decisions to remove Sponseller from coaching and then to reinstate him were made by Tom Eschbacher, principal at Parkersburg South.
Rick Leach said the last two games for the freshmen were canceled. One was canceled because the other school was unable to field a team and the other was because most of the Parkersburg South players left the team.