James S. Weagley, Recreational Consultant ::::
Case Description/Summary: A female high school basketball player was injured while dancing with teammates in the locker room prior to the start of practice. It was reported by the plaintiff and coaching staff, that the girls often danced for fun prior to practice. The plaintiff reports that she was performing a dance move, while lying on the floor, when a teammate rolled a discus toward her. She sustained significant injuries to the genital area. According to medical documentation, she had a surgical procedure to repair deep vaginal lacerations and may require additional surgery at a future date.
Analysis: The coach was experienced, well-respected, and had been the girls’ varsity basketball coach for 6 years. She completed all required training, and advanced her professional expertise by attending several coaching clinics at her own expense each year. All assistant coaching staff was appropriately trained as well.
The high school athletic department had a well-communicated, standard policy for locker room supervision. All coaching staff demonstrated a sound working knowledge of the locker room supervision policy when deposed. This policy was stated in the coach’s handbook and discussed at the pre-season meetings with the coaching staff. The locker room supervision policy applied by the girls’ basketball coaching staff employed a general supervision technique. This policy required a coach to be in the area, and able to respond immediately if a situation required it. Specific supervision, on the other hand, is typically a hands-on approach. Direct supervision might be required if a deviation from safe practices or procedures had been observed, to provide direct feedback on a one to one basis, or to lend direct assistance when a student was attempting a new or particularly dangerous skill. An established locker room supervision policy was in place for the girls’ basketball team. The coaching staff would supervise the girls after school study hall and escort them to the locker room to get changed before practice. While the girls changed, the coaching staff was in the office located in the locker room, with the door open, so they were able to hear the girls. Additionally, they would provide times of direct supervision of the girls by “popping in and out” to check on them.
Opinion: Upon review of the locker room supervision policy, it was determined to be consistent with several schools’ locker room supervision policies. The plan was well-communicated in the coach’s handbook and at pre-season coach’s meetings. Providing indirect supervision of the locker room as the girls changed is sufficient. The coaching staff was in the office, with the door open, which allowed them to hear and respond appropriately to any problems. When needed, the coaches did demonstrate times of active direct supervision when they were in the locker room checking on the girls. There are some who advocate stationing a coach in the locker room to provide direct supervision. A locker room is not an inherently dangerous environment. Additionally, it is an invasion of the student’s privacy and could be misinterpreted as having sexual overtones. Finally, a locker room monitor would not be able to respond to and prevent all accidents. As was the case with the situation described here, these accidents often happen in the blink of an eye. The plaintiff sustained an unfortunate injury resulting from a unique set of circumstances. Although locker room supervision has proven to be a consistently challenging activity for many, many years, the reality is that despite adequate supervision and the best efforts of coaches to provide a safe environment, injuries do occur.
James S. Weagley is a Recreational Consultant with DJS Associates and can be reached via email at experts@forensicDJS.com or via phone at 215-659-2010.