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Players Sue District for Alleged Anti-Bullying Violation

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In a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday against the Washoe County (Nev.) School District and Galena High School football coach Steve Struzyk and principal Tom Brown, three former players asked for monetary damages to be paid in compensation for economic loss and pain and suffering due to a perceived violation of state law and a district anti-bullying policy.

Mateo Lemus, Bryan Madison and Jake Berger were serving as co-captains of the team when coach Struzyk found that they had been using an over-the counter testosterone-enhancing supplement. Struzyk called a team meeting and publicly condemned the practice, shaming the players by revoking their captain status.

According to the lawsuit, "Struzyk placed a trash can in the middle of the room and with dramatic flourish ripped up the captain’s papers for Lemus, Madison and Berger. Struzyk threw the ripped captains papers in a trash can he had positioned nearby.”

After the spectacle, Lemus was called to Struzyk’s office, where he was questioned about selling the supplement to other teammates. Lemus claims that Struzyk belittled and berated him, and the dispute escalated when Lemus tried to defend his actions. Feeling that he had little choice in the matter, Lemus turned in his equipment and left the team.

Madison and Berger were also asked to leave the team after making an attempt to advocate for Lemus. According to the players, when they presented the situation to principal Brown, they were told that the coach’s actions did not constitute bullying, and that it was “just football talk.”

The players’ parents then took the complaint to the school district, which conducted an internal investigation into the actions of coach Struzyk. Their findings record that there was not enough “corroborating evidence” to prove any violation of the anti-bullying policies currently in place.

The official statement read, “The district, however, takes all such allegations seriously and is looking into this matter. Based on its findings, the district will continue to adjust its policies, regulations, and training practices to ensure that all our children receive the highest quality education available in a safe and respectful learning environment. We will also, when appropriate, vigorously defend the district's actions.”

The players and their parents are now asking for the actions of the coach, principal and district to be ruled in violation of state law. Legal representation for the players told the Reno Gazette-Journal, “The public policy point we’re trying to make is that this conduct is as prohibited on the athletic field as it is in the classroom. This coach was over the top and played a significant role in harming these students and their future.” 

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