Psychological, Emotional and Verbal Abuse.
Parents Sue hoops Coach, Mishawaka schools
[South Bend Tribune March 20, 2007 |JEFF PARROTT Tribune Staff Writer
At 6 feet 9 inches, senior Jim Ross was Mishawaka High School’s tallest basketball player this past season. But his minutes played were among the shortest. His parents, Don and Shirley Ross, are so angry at coach Robb Berger that they are suing him and School City of Mishawaka in St. Joseph Circuit Court. Their lawsuit makes no mention of playing time. Instead, they claim that beginning in 2005, Berger “harassed, berated, humiliated, intimidated and psychologically abused” the youth. In a court filing, Berger has denied the lawsuit’s substantive allegations. Examples of the verbal abuse, according to the lawsuit:
“You are eight (f——) feet tall, why can’t you make a lay up?”
“You were almost competitive and got a god(d—) rebound.”
“You can’t run, you can’t jump, you can’t play.”
And this, from a harassment complaint letter the Rosses sent to School City of Mishawaka Superintendent R. Steven Mills:
“My grandmother is faster than you and my kid has more heart.”
As a result, Jim Ross suffered emotional distress, withdrew and shut down, the lawsuit claims. After the couple complained to Mills, Berger “switched his method of abuse to ignoring Jim Ross and acting as if he did not exist, as if he were not present,” the suit claims.
“Coach Berger does not speak to Jim Ross, does not look at Jim Ross, or does not address him in any manner.” This grew so extreme that on Sept. 17, when Ross fractured his left foot during practice, Berger ignored him and failed to ask him about the injury, the suit claims. Another student helped Ross to his car, and when he arrived at home, his parents made sure he received the medical attention he needed, the suit states. Citing the pending litigation, neither the Rosses, Berger nor Mills would comment when contacted by The Tribune.
The couple initially named only Berger as a defendant but recently amended their complaint to add the school corporation. That means Shirley Ross, who works as the corporation’s director of gifted and talented education, is now suing her employer.
The corporation, added to the suit March 9 under an order by Judge Michael Gotsch, had yet to acknowledge having been served with the complaint, according to court documents on file Monday. In communications with the Rosses, School City officials have denied that Berger’s conduct was abusive and “appear to be claiming that his actions are part of his coaching style or philosophy,” the Rosses state in court documents.
They allege that the corporation is liable for “negligent supervision, training and hiring” of Berger. Don Ross, a real estate developer, has long been active in the community and schools. In the late-1990s, he headed the board of the corporation’s Education Foundation. He also is a past president of the Mishawaka Business Association. Reg Tisdale, longtime publisher of the recruiting newsletter Indiana Basketball News, said he was “shocked” to hear that Ross had played so little his senior year, while noting that a high school coach reserves the right to play whomever he wants.
“Obviously he and Jim have some problems with each other,” Tisdale said. “I would just guess, I don’t know.” Tisdale said he had seen Ross play in spring and summer camps since age 14. Initially, he was “awkward,” Tisdale said, but he had steadily improved. “He was uncoordinated when he was growing up,” Tisdale said. “Last summer when I saw him, he was much better, catching the ball, scoring, his footwork was better, he had better spring (in his legs) and touch.”
The lawsuit alleges that Berger’s harassment could hurt Ross’ chances to win a college basketball scholarship. Tisdale agreed but said Ross’ playing career is not necessarily over. “Not playing on that team certainly stifles his college career,” Tisdale said. “It makes it a longer and harder road to get there, but that’s not saying he can’t get there. “If this was a thick-legged kid with big ankles and he couldn’t move, (playing in college) would be an uphill battle,”
Tisdale said. “But he has a world of talent for college basketball, he runs well, he has long arms and a great touch.” Tisdale said Don Ross had been corresponding with him during his son’s junior year, and he advised the couple to consider transferring him to another school. But they decided against that because the student body elected him student council president for his senior year, the Rosses said in the letter to Mills, which has been included in court documents.
This year, Jim Ross was one of 16 Mishawaka High School athletes chosen to serve in the “Stay in Bounds” program. The athletes serve as mentors to teach character-development skills to fourth-graders at LaSalle, Bieger and Liberty elementary schools. Ray Craft, an associate commissioner with the Indiana High School Athletic Association, said parents suing a coach over his allegedly abusive behavior is not unheard of but is “very, very rare.”
Apr 8, 2008 … MISHAWAKA — Robb Berger, former Marian and Wawasee coach, has resigned as boys basketball head coach at Mishawaka High School after eight years