A civil lawsuit has been filed in Garvin County alleging three former Norman North wrestlers, former coaches and Norman Public School officials “fostered an environment of hazing and assault within its wrestling program.”
The civil suit names former wrestlers Tanner Shipman, Chase Smith and Sage Gandenberger and was filed on behalf of one of the alleged victims of an incident that occurred on an NPS bus in January 2016. The Norman North wrestling team was leaving a meet in Pauls Valley when two students, ages 16 and 12, were allegedly restrained and sexually assaulted.
Four wrestlers faced criminal charges in Garvin County following the incident; charges against three of them were dismissed. A fourth, Shipman, pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor assault and battery charges and, as part of a plea deal, received a six-month deferred sentence set to end Sept. 30.
The civil lawsuit, filed July 21, claims there was a practice of hazing within the Norman North wrestling program.
“NPS has fostered a known environment of hazing and assault within its wrestling program,” the lawsuit read. “For years, NPS wrestlers have engaged in a form of hazing and initiation which wrestlers called ‘donchee.’ The term was known to NPS wrestlers and coaches. The term ‘donchee’ was used to describe a form of hazing whereby NPS wrestlers would restrain another wrestler while others would penetrate the restrained wrestler’s anus with their fingers.”
Lawsuit documents claim a psychologist who evaluated three of the four teen defendants in the criminal cases concluded these young men did not view their actions as an assault but instead an initiation “tradition” within the wrestling program. The lawsuit claims the two wrestlers were “sexually assaulted, hazed and battered.”
After charges were dismissed against Gandenberger, his attorney at the time, Elton Jenkins, said, “I think he handled adversity very maturely and I’m very proud of him. Facing charges like Sage was facing and having to read your name in the newspaper and know what the public seems to think about you, about something that wasn’t true, is very stressful.”
Gandenberger was the only one of the four accused wrestlers to speak with The Transcript as their trials wound their way through the court system.
“Everybody got picked on. We got messed with because we were younger,” he said in a January article. “I mean, I got hazed, if you want to put the word on it, but it was never to the point where I went home and told mommy.”
After the incident, NPS officials said the school district changed its bus policies and would utilize different practice facilities for the high school and junior high school teams. Wrestling coach Greg Henning and assistant coach Russell Caldwell (who was driving the bus) are no longer at Norman North. Volunteer coach Kevin Reamey, who was on the bus when the incident allegedly occurred, is also no longer connected to the high school.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the former wrestler who accepted a plea deal. The individual is Tanner Shipman.
Barry Porterfield of the Pauls Valley Democrat and Transcript reporter Jacob McGuire contributed to this story.