A former Germantown Academy swimmer has filed a suit alleging that the elite preparatory school tolerated physical and mental abuse suffered by him and other swimmers under the watch of nationally renowned coach Richard Shoulberg.
The school allowed Shoulberg to continue coaching despite the many verified claims of abuse that occurred during his tenure, and did not take any actions to prevent future abuse, according to the civil suit filed last week in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court on behalf of a John Doe, now an adult.
The plaintiff is seeking in excess of $50,000.
James Connor, head of school, said the Fort Washington, Montgomery County, school was aware of the suit.
In a statement, the school said, "These allegations were investigated and addressed by Germantown Academy as soon as they came to the attention of the administration. We will continue to cooperate openly and fully moving forward."
Shoulberg, a coach at the school for 46 years, said he had no comment. He was not named as a defendant.
In 2013, the school was roiled by hazing allegations and Shoulberg's abrupt absence from the pool deck, but the turbulence abated as Shoulberg accepted a diminished coaching role.
"We wanted the truth out there in regard to what occurred," said Brian Kent, attorney for the accuser. He said Shoulberg has said publicly that he did nothing wrong and that the school had done nothing to dispute his statement.
Germantown Academy acknowledged in an email that multiple incidents of physical abuse of swimmers had occurred, said Kent.
According to the suit, the John Doe, a talented long-distance swimmer, was invited to train at the school in 2012 when he was in eighth grade.
Shoulberg would "pit" another swimmer, identified as "A.L." in court documents, against Doe. As a result, A.L. began to abuse Doe mentally and physically, and threatened to sodomize him. Doe was hit and punched in the locker room, slammed into walls, and kicked and kneed in the stomach and genital area. His nipples were twisted, his chest hair was ripped out, and he was urinated upon. On one occasion, other team members had to pull A.L. off Doe and hold him down until he was under control, the suit says.
The two swimmers roomed together at away competitions.
A.L. was arrested by Whitemarsh Township police, charged as a juvenile, and pleaded guilty to charges related to his "continued torture and abuse of John Doe," according to the suit.
Abuse incidents weren't confined to Doe, the suit alleges. Nor were they limited to Shoulberg, it contends.
In one instance alleged in the suit, an assistant coach unhappy with the way Doe was swimming threw a large empty bucket at Doe while he was in the water, causing a large chunk of skin to come off of his hand.
Swimmers were forced to participate in a tradition called the "freshman fight club" and beat each other while upperclassmen watched, the suit says. While at a training camp in Florida, Shoulberg forced students to swim with their sneakers on, then run more than seven miles with wet shoes and suits in 30-degree weather, it alleges.
According to the suit, Shoulberg would yell over the pool microphone calling members of the girls' team "fat, out of shape, sluts, and tramps," and another coach removed the microphone because of the inappropriate comments.
In September 2013, Doe went to Shoulberg for help, telling him of the abuse he and others on the team endured, the suit says. He and another swimmer then approached Shoulberg's assistant.
The assistant then confronted Shoulberg, saying he needed to protect Doe and other swimmers. The same day, other swimmers came forward and said they were physically and mentally abused. One coach demanded that Shoulberg take action. Shoulberg allegedly ordered the coach to follow orders or be fired.
Shoulberg was put on leave in fall 2013, amid rumors of hazing, while USA Swimming and local police investigated the allegations. In response, about 1,800 fans, coaches, and former students petitioned the school to reinstate him. He returned weeks later as coach emeritus, with an agreement he would retire at the end of the season.