A former Hoover High student is suing North Canton schools and accusing a former assistant wrestling coach of hazing and physically abusing him between 2012 and 2014.
CANTON The parents of a former Hoover High student have filed a lawsuit alleging a former assistant wrestling coach hazed and physically abused him and also provided him marijuana.
Scott and Yvette Neal and their son, Garrett, filed the civil suit against North Canton City Schools in January in Stark County Common Pleas Court. A mediation session on Thursday was unsuccessful. The case is scheduled for a final pretrial on Oct. 26 and a trial in early November.
The suit also names the North Canton school board as defendants along with Alex Poinar, the former Hoover assistant wrestling coach.
The court filing alleges beginning in the summer of 2012 and continuing through the summer of 2014, during "practices, clinics, open gyms and 'boot camps,' under the guise of providing wrestling instruction, Mr. Poinar engaged in abusive conduct toward (Garrett Neal), including but not limited to suffocating and choking Garrett to a point near loss of consciousness and kicking and punching him."
The lawsuit alleges Poinar's actions constitute hazing under the Ohio Revised Code "in that Poinar's acts were acts of initiation into the student organization of wrestling which caused or created a substantial risk of causing mental or physical harm to Garrett."
Hazing is a fourth-degree misdemeanor under state law. No criminal charges have been filed in the case. Attorneys for the plaintiffs, however, argue in the filing those named in the lawsuit face civil liability.
The suit further alleges Poinar provided marijuana to the student numerous times during the period in question as well as prescription drugs, including Adderall and diuretics, "also under the guise of improving his wrestling performance."
Poinar denied all of the allegations in an email response to The Canton Repository. Poinar's attorney, John Weisensell, of Akron, vehemently denied all of the allegations on behalf of his client, declining further comment because it's pending litigation.
Jeff Wendorf, North Canton superintendent, said Friday that when the school learned of the allegation involving marijuana in the summer of 2014, Nicholas Gamble, head coach of the Hoover wrestling team, and the administration took appropriate action and Poinar was immediately dismissed. Wendorf said school officials and staff had not learned of the other allegations until reading them when the lawsuit was filed earlier this year.
"The safety of our kids is paramount and we always take what action is appropriate to protect our kids and to provide them with activities and programs that are appropriate for students," said Wendorf, who has served as the district's superintendent since August 2016.
Robert E. Soles Jr. and Kara Dodson are listed in court papers as the attorneys representing the Neals. The attorneys and Scott and Yvette Neal could not be reached for comment on Friday.
The superintendent said there's no indication the allegations involve team wrestling practices.
Wendorf noted "our coaches don't train (student-athletes) individually; it's a team sport (with) our coaches and all of our kids at practice or on the court or on the field or in the wrestling room."
Gamble, the head wrestling coach, is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but the allegations concerning hazing and drugs are not directed at him.
The suit, however, alleges that Gamble and/or other staff members of North Canton City Schools were aware of some or all of the actions of Poinar "and failed to take any action to protect Garrett from such harm."
The suit also alleges Gamble and/or administrators, employees or faculty members of North Canton schools "recklessly permitted and/or tolerated the hazing of (Garrett Neal as prohibited under Ohio Revised Code)."
Garrett Neal graduated from Hoover in the spring of 2016, according to court records. The plaintiffs allege he sustained injuries as well as emotional distress from the physical blows alleged in the suit.
The former student has undergone medical treatment for his injuries, according to the lawsuit, which seeks compensatory damages of more than $25,000 and punitive damages of more than $50,000.
Poinar will be the head wrestling coach next season at Coventry High School in Summit County, said Russell Chaboudy, superintendent of Coventry Local Schools.
Chaboudy said Poinar was an assistant wrestling coach at Coventry last season.
Chaboudy said Friday he was aware "some people ... had issues with this coach." He said those were discovered during a background check.
The superintendent noted Poinar has a valid coaching certificate with the Ohio Department of Education and the agency has not placed any restrictions on his ability to coach.
"We felt comfortable bringing him on," he said.
Reach Ed at 330-580-8315
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