KINGFISHER, Okla. (KFOR)- The Kingfisher Public School District, along with a few coaches, has been in the hot seat for over a year after a federal hazing lawsuit was filed. Now, more key witnesses have come forward.
A federal lawsuit against Kingfisher was filed in January of 2022 by a former Kingfisher High School football player who has been identified as John Doe.
Doe had concealed his identity until Thursday.
“Our client, Mason Mecklenburg, formerly John Doe, has determined to reveal his identity to put an end to the Kingfisher culture of silence and fear of speaking out. We praise Mason for taking a stand as well as the other former players who have already testified. We encourage others to speak up. The testimony of school board members has convinced us that no one is protecting these children and that it will take a jury verdict to protect the students of Kingfisher. That is what we are prepared to do!,” said Mecklenburg’s attorneys.
Mecklenburg has outlined years of abuse under one head coach in the lawsuit.
He recalls wet towel beatings, practice drills meant to “toughen” players up, and coach-sanctioned locker room fights.
Part of this lawsuit is a photo showing Mecklenburg’s back covered in bruises. He claims the injury was from being beat with a wet towel.
His attorneys filed for a motion to compel discovery from Defendants on April 17.
Their ask was for evidence dating 2005 onward.
An Oklahoma City federal judge denied that motion Thursday afternoon.
Instead, he provided his “preliminary thoughts” on how all parties involved should move forward.
He suggested the evidence start from the moment Kingfisher High School’s current head football coach was hired.
That tracks back nearly 20 years, so it essentially meets the same ask Mecklenburg’s attorneys were wanting.
“[The judge] gave us everything we wanted,” an attorney for Mecklenburg stated after the motion hearing on Thursday.
As Mecklenburg’s attorneys continue compiling evidence and searching for answers, they’re interviewing former Kingfisher High football players and current Board of Education members.
News 4 has been provided with transcriptions from a part of those interviews.
Because of a motion for a gag order was filed in this case, witness names were originally withheld.
That motion was denied on May 11, allowing for names to be publicly released.
One of the former players graduated from Kingfisher High in 2020. His name is Bailey Willson.
He claims he played under the head coach in question during his freshman year, but due to alleged abuse and bullying, he did not return his sophomore year.
“There were a lot of racial slurs being said around, there was a lot of fights, surprisingly, and I couldn’t believe my eyes, and there was usually one on one fights or there was a thing called the ring, is what they called it, and it’s just people surrounding to make like a circle ring and then there was two people facing off against each other. And I knew right then, I knew this wasn’t going to be football,” said Willson in his deposition.
Willson remembered the “N word” was often used to describe John Marshall High School by fellow players.
He doesn’t recall coaches objecting to that language by players.
Willson talked about “The Ring” in which he saw kids walk away with bloody noses.
“I saw a kid get punched in the face one time and he had to be taken to the emergency room because his nose got dislocated,” added Willson.
A former coach even stepped into a boxing match with an underclassman, said Willson.
He said that former coach discouraged players from recording the fight before putting an underclassman in a headlock, nearly choking him out.
“He could barely breathe as soon as he was released,” said Willson.
During his interview, he testified he became a target of abuse as well.
When his mom allegedly confronted the school’s football coaches about Willson coming home with bruises, they told her, “It’s just football.”
Another former football player, Cody Payne recounted his time as a Kingfisher football player in 2007 and 2009.
That would have been his freshman and junior year, according to his deposition.
Payne said he remembered upperclassman bullying younger players. He was even beat up once in the locker room, he added.
“It was in the locker room where there — there just was never any supervision, you know, but even if there was, I don’t think anything would have been done about it. Another upperclassman had tackled me to the ground and then was punching me and wouldn’t stop but he was hitting hard,” Payne stated.
Because of the alleged abuse Payne endured, he said he started abusing painkillers due to depression.
“I definitely felt tougher when I took those pills,” said Payne.
Payne also recalled a sexual assault happening between two players.
“Players should not have to feel threatened that they’re going to be sexually assaulted because they want to play football. I mean, that’s — these coaches, I’m looking back, these coaches were my age when I was a kid, they’re kids, you know, you’re supposed to look out for kids, not acting like everything is okay,” explained Payne.
Payne’s father, Terry is a current Board of Education member who also been deposed in this lawsuit.
Terry said in 2009, he was the Assistant Superintendent and Payne made him aware of some of the things going on.
He reported telling the then-superintendent about it, but doesn’t know if there was ever an investigation into it.
Terry couldn’t recall if there was an investigation into any complaint similar to his son’s.
He testified he wished he had done more to make sure there had been an investigation.
Another current Board of Education member, Dana Golbek, was also interviewed.
She recalled being informed about abuse allegations, but that she didn’t have the power to fire the head coach in question without a recommendation from the superintendent.
“I am totally dependent on the superintendent’s recommendation because he’s the one that has had the reports from all the agencies who have investigated,” said Golbeck.
Mecklenburg’s attorneys have explained this case as “20 years of silence.”
They claim the district’s Board of Education doesn’t seem to want to make a move because they want someone else to do so, such as law enforcement or the State Department of Education.
As the lawsuit continues, Mecklenburg’s attorneys have requested emails from the Kingfisher school district.
They have asked for any emails containing trigger words such as hazing and bullying. There were about 20 terms given to the school district in regards to key wording in the emails, according to Mecklenburg’s attorneys.
The school district allegedly found 33,000 emails containing the “trigger words” Mecklenburg’s attorneys were looking for.
Mecklenburg’s attorneys don’t believe there are that many emails, but that the school district wanted to show “there was too much.”
To get those emails came at a very costly price, including a $770/month fee to keep them in storage, according to Mecklenburg’s attorneys.
Mecklenburg’s attorneys told KFOR this is “not football culture, but a football cult around [the head coach.”
A trial has been set for September 2023.
In the meantime, Mecklenburg and his attorneys are awaiting a decision from the Defendants regarding a settlement agreement of $10M and the firing of the head coach.