Attorney: $6M lawsuit against Hardin Valley baseball parent is ‘retaliatory’ – Knoxville News Sentinel
Two Hardin Valley High School baseball coaches who were investigated and cleared after complaints they abused players have filed a $6 million lawsuit against the parent who made the accusation.
Angela Gosnell/USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee
The mother of a former Hardin Valley baseball player has asked a Knox County judge to dismiss a $6 million defamation lawsuit filed against her by her son’s former coaches.
Sheri Super, earlier this year, accused head coach Joe Michalski and assistant Zach Luther of abusing their players by hitting them with baseballs during a batting drill. The complaint launched investigations at the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services and the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.
The two coaches were placed on leave from their duties with the baseball team in mid-March before ultimately being cleared by both agencies and reinstated. The two then filed a lawsuit in Knox County Circuit Court in early August, each asking $1 million in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages.
Litigation called ‘baddish, retaliatory’
In her motion to dismiss, Nashville attorney Rocky McElhaney, who represents Super, called the litigation a “baddish, retaliatory lawsuit.”
McElhaney called on the judge to “protect mothers, neighbors, cousins, babysitters, and teachers who will make reports in the near future.”
“To rule any other way would open the flood gates to these kinds of cases and deter others from coming forward with good faith beliefs of harm to children,” he said in court documents.
McElhaney argued the letter Super wrote to Hardin Valley Academy Principal Sallee Reynolds and Athletic Director George Ashe complaining about the coaches’ behavior was privileged and that she should be exempt from civil litigation.
The coaches claim Super lied about injuries to a player and sent a letter to school administrators detailing an “incredibly dangerous” practice drill that was both “emotionally and physically abusive.”
The coaches said Super knowingly made a false allegation in retaliation over earlier disagreements about her son’s involvement with the team.
State law requires child abuse be reported
In the court document, McElhaney cited Tennessee state laws that require anyone with knowledge of child abuse to report it.
“To Ms. Sheri Super, after she witnessed the baseball team practice, spoke with baseball team members, and saw bruises on a baseball team member’s back, it reasonably appeared that the baseball team members had been the victims of abuse and so she reported it based on the information she had available,” he wrote.
Video of the practice taken from the bleachers and provided to the USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee by Super appears to show a coach repeatedly striking players in the batter’s box with pitches.
According to Super, the players were forced to stand in the batter’s box while Luther threw the pitches and Michalski watched from first base during the drill. A photo provided by Super of a player’s back shows red marks on his lower left side.
Drill didn’t use real baseballs
The balls used during the drill were not real baseballs, but a lightweight “training” ball, according to the lawsuit. The player whose injuries Super had referred to in her allegations had actually received the bruise from a real baseball during a scrimmage, the lawsuit claims.
The drill was prompted by a player who stepped out of the batter’s box during a March 8 scrimmage against Webb School to avoid being hit by a pitch, according to Super. No one was allowed to leave the batter’s box during practice until they were hit by a pitch, Super said.
“What makes me angry is that my son has had two concussions since May of last year,” Super told the USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee at the time. “What if they would have accidentally hit him the head? At that point, we are talking about double vision and cognitive functioning, not whether he has a career playing at Vanderbilt.”
Super’s son, shortstop Ryder Green, has committed to play for Vanderbilt University next year. He has since transferred from Hardin Valley to Knoxville Christian.