Ex-wrestling coach pinned with lawsuit
Former Pleasant Valley Coach and 1994 PIAA "AAA" State Champion Wrestler Mark Getz will take on three opponents in what may be his last district match ever a civil rights lawsuit.
Lori Moeck, a Palmerton resident and mother, filed the lawsuit May 9 alleging her teenage children were sexually harassed and physically abused by former Pleasant Valley wrestling coach Mark Getz. The suit also targets, members of Pleasant Valley School District's Administration.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Scranton and alleges that Getz and two assistant coaches verbally harassed Moeck's daughter, who is referred to in the filing as A.M., and that her rights to participate in an education program without sexual discrimination under the Title IX portion of the Education Amendments of 1972 were violated.
The lawsuit also alleges, Getz physically assaulted Moeck's son, identified as "C.M."
The children are identified by his and her initials in the file as they have yet to reach legal age.
The lawsuit alleges members of Pleasant Valley's administration, School Superintendent Douglas Arnold, Assistant Superintendent Anthony Fadule, and Principal John Gress, were aware of Getz's alleged aggressions and inappropriate behavior but looked the other way.
"Pleasant Valley School supervisors, including defendants Arnold, Fadule, and Gress know of defendant Getz' propensity for aggression and inappropriate verbal abuse but ignored this behavior because of the success of the wrestling program which benefited the Pleasant Valley School District, and therefore, encouraged the inappropriate misogynist and homophobic culture," the file states.
Attorney Jonathan James confirmed that he is representing Moeck and her children.
According to Moeck, who was interviewed through James, C.M. began wrestling in the first grade. Moeck said he was extremely devoted to the sport and recalled a time when C.M. took fourth place in his district while in sixth grade, despite having to compete with a broken elbow.
Moeck said C.M. was invited to join the Junior Varsity team by Getz as a freshman after having a successful Junior High career.
A.M. was a cheerleader in the fourth grade when she approached Pleasant Valley Youth Wrestling Association's coach, Ed Klingel, and expressed her desire to join the wrestling team. Klingel instructed A.M. to think over the decision for a week before he allowed A.M. to join his team. A.M., a junior, is now in her eighth year wrestling.
Under Title IX, A.M. was permitted to wrestle with the boy's wrestling team since the school does not have a separate girls team.
A.M. is not the first female to wrestle at Pleasant Valley and growing enforcement of Title IX has led to a dramatic increase in the number of high school female wrestlers across the nation. According to the National Wrestling Coaches Association, the number of high school female wrestlers has grown from 804 in 1994 to over 7000 in 2011.
Additionally, 22 U.S. colleges now sponsor a varsity wrestling program, including two Pennsylvania colleges: Lock Haven and West Chester University.
According to the wrestling program's website, Getz was a graduate of Nazareth Area High School where he placed third and then first at the PIAA "AAA" State Championships. Getz wrestled at Bloomsburg University and East Stroudsburg University and traveled to Sophia, Bulgaria where he placed fifth in the 1996 world championships.
Since becoming head coach in 2006, Getz has coached three state place winners, two regional champions, two district champions and 11 state championship qualifiers. In 2006-2008, Getz led his team to victory at the Mountain Valley Championships.
The file states Getz was suspended from coaching in March 2013 but the suspension is believed to be unrelated to the incidents the case alleges.
"We are vigorously defending the case and believe we will be vindicated," said Michael Levin, an attorney representing the Pleasant Valley School District but not Getz.
Fadule declined to comment on the lawsuit and his role as the school's Title IX coordinator, and said the members of the administration have been instructed to direct all inquires to Levin.
Questions to Levin after his initial statement received no response.
Getz declined to comment on the lawsuit, and, instead, directed questions to "the school's lawyer," who had already established he will not be representing Getz.
The lawsuit alleged Getz forced C.M. to wrestle a senior teammate 75 pounds heavier than himself, a violation of the PA Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) wrestling rules, at a team practice on Dec. 3, 2012.
The larger wrestler, who according to the lawsuit is "was known to lose his temper," picked C.M. up and threw him through the wooden doors of the gymnasium. C.M. returned to continue the practice match and was struck in the side of the head by the larger boy's fist. C.M. prepared to retaliate against his opponent before collecting himself and attempting to leave the practice. Getz then swore at C.M. before he lifted C.M. up and slammed him into the gymnasium wall. This caused C.M. to have an asthma attack and suffer a head injury for which he had to be taken to the Gnaden Huetten Memorial Hospital Emergency Room.
Moeck said the abuse was the result of C.M.'s decision to drop down to the junior high team after Getz had told the siblings only one of them could remain on the J.V. team.
"…defendant Mark Getz told C.M. that he is only keeping one of the Moeck kids on the team, and that either he or A.M. would be cut from the team, strongly suggesting that he only wanted C.M., not A.M.," the case states.
While C.M. chose to step down in order to allow his sister to continue wrestling on the J.V. level, the decision made him appear undedicated to the coaches, said Moeck.
"(Getz) crossed that line and went from being a tough but fair coach … to being an uncontrolled animal by verbally abusing, harassing, my children and others, and ultimately physically assaulting my son, " said Moeck.
Humiliation as Motivation
A.M. claimed she was subjected to verbal abuse from Getz and assistant coaches, Keith Smith and Matt Getz. The suit alleges the coaches would ask A.M. about her menstrual cycle, and told A.M., "… we see your pad." The lawsuit also said Getz and Smith would engage in graphic sexual discussion in front of A.M., discussing a "threesome" Getz was involved in and detailing their first sexual encounters.
According to the plaintiffs, Mark Getz used verbal abuse to motivate wrestlers, alleging Getz told A.M. to get her balls to the mat" and asked her opponent during a wrestling matchup: "Hey, how's it feel knowing that's probably one of the only women you'll ever have on top of you?"
In the file, it says A.M. was also blocked from attending a tournament and was eventually kicked off the team, returning only after her brother, C.M., threatened to lave the program with her.
The lawsuit states A.M. was targeted solely for her gender. Moeck said, however, the abuse her son received was unrelated to her daughter's gender.
"I do not believe that my son has been targeted at all because of his sister's gender. I feel that this coach truly believed he would improve (C.M.) through the use of tough coaching," said Moeck, adding that she believes Getz had good intentions, but unfortunately crossed the line between coaching and mental and physical abuse.
"Tough coaching is a must; abuse is a never," said Moeck.
A Parallel Situation
Klingel, mentioned as A.M.'s first wrestling coach, was a kind and accepting coach, said Moeck.
This may be due in part because Klingel had his own daughter in the program, Samantha Klingel. Samantha Klingel graduated from Pleasant Valley in 2011 and went on to wrestle at King's college in Bristol, Tenn. where she became fifth in the nation in her weight class.
Samantha Klingel said she had not experienced any of the treatment A.M. described while wrestling at Pleasant Valley. Samantha Klingel said Getz never made sexual comments toward or around her. She said the males did swear but coaches abstained.
"… there were lines that weren't crossed," said Klingel.
Samantha Klingel said the coaches and her teammates were supportive of her when someone from another team would refuse to wrestle her and added that coaches, teammates, and her teammates' parents still contact her at college to hear how she is doing in her wrestling career.
"I feel like this law suit may be taken out of context and in my experience at (Pleasant Valley), my coaches always had my back," said Samantha Klingel.
The plaintiffs are requesting monetary compensation for damages, that the behavior is ceased, the installation of measures that would deter the defendant and others from ever committing similar abuse again, and reasonable attorney fees and costs.
"I would like to see measures put in place that would ensure the safety of all children in any sport and procedures put in place for handling things like this, should they ever arise again with another child so that the child does not have to feel victimized by the school for coming forward and reporting a wrong doing," said Moeck.
"I want to see justice for the abuses my children have suffered at the hands of Coach Getz and continue to suffer as a repercussion of coming forward with the information to the school and media."