Dallastown wrestler Nick Shields, now 16, gets the better of an opponent at a December 2011 wrestling match.
Dallastown wrestler Nick Shields, now 16, gets the better of an opponent at a December 2011 wrestling match. (John A. Pavoncello)

A student wrestler caught up in the investigation of Dallastown Area High School's former wrestling coach said some teammates are angry with him for speaking out against what he describes as hazing and bullying in the wrestling program.

But Nick Shields said he's not trying to tarnish his school's image.

"I've always loved Dallastown," the 16-year-old said. "This is my school. I grew up in Dallastown. It's a great education."

Nick -- who was class president in his freshman and sophomore years -- said he's speaking out to improve the situation for up-and-coming wrestlers in the district, including his younger brother.

"I don't want my brother to go through this next year," Nick said.

"Most of the wrestlers aren't talking to us anymore," he said. "But (I'm) just trying to do what's right."

Nick said at first he didn't view the conduct of a handful of his fellow wrestlers as hazing or bullying. But the more he saw, the more he came to realize what was happening was wrong, he said.

According to Nick and another fellow wrestler, former coach Matthew Striebig also witnessed hazing, but never disciplined anyone for it.

Striebig declined comment for a previous story and didn't return several phone messages seeking comment for this article.

Citation: On May 21, York Area Regional Police cited Striebig with summary disorderly conduct for allegedly encouraging wrestlers to hit a fellow team member for passing gas during practice. Nick said he was that wrestler.

"Coach Striebig said, 'Everyone gets a free hit on Shields,'" Nick told The York Dispatch. The teen said he doesn't believe the comment was meant in a lighthearted way.

"Thirteen kids came over and hit me," he said. "I was on the ground, curled up in a ball," protecting his head with his arms.

Nick was kicked, punched and hit, he said, and some of the body shots were "pretty hard."

"Some of them hit me more than once," he said. "(Striebig) was standing (nearby), just watching."

According to Nick, Striebig waited until the 13 wrestlers walked away before approaching Nick and apologizing to him.

"At the time, I said it was OK," Nick said, but it really wasn't.

'Don't tell': Two wrestlers later told him not to tell his parents "because the coach could get in trouble," he said.

Nick didn't tell his parents.

Two months later, when he came home with permanent marker scribbled all over his face -- he said his teammates held him down to do that -- Nick still didn't tell his parents he was being hazed and bullied, he said.

According to Nick, some wrestlers were hazed by being bitten, or by being choked until they gave up and "tapped out.

Page 11 of Dallastown Area School District’s online student handbook addresses bullying.
Page 11 of Dallastown Area School District's online student handbook addresses bullying. (Courtesy of www.dallastown.net)

"(Striebig) saw multiple kids biting me," Nick said, and once told one of them to stop, but, to his knowledge, never disciplined any of them.

Eventually, Nick confided in his parents, Mark and Vickie Shields. They waited until the end of the wrestling season, then in early March went to school officials about the bullying.

Confidential? The Shields family spoke with assistant principal Kevin Molin, who told them a confidential investigation would be done, they said.

They didn't contact police about the "free hit" incident, they said.

That was done by Nick's doctor, who is required by law to report suspected child abuse, according to the Shields family's attorney, T.L. Kearney.

Nick said shortly after the conversation with Molin, Striebig pulled him into a classroom and confronted him.

"Basically he chewed me out and asked why I lied," the teen said. "He said he didn't see any hazing going on."

Nick said he knew better and, after the confrontation, felt unsafe around Striebig.

Internal probe: Dallastown Area Superintendent Ronald Dyer said the district has taken the allegations very seriously and conducted an internal investigation, as well as cooperating with the police investigation.

"We do not condone hazing, we do not condone bullying," he said, and made that "very clear" to students. "We are trying to handle this in a prudent, balanced, yet firm way. ... We do not want to have situations where children do not feel safe. That has to be rectified."

The investigation did not substantiate allegations of bullying, a term that has a specific legal definition determined by the state's General Assembly, Dyer said.

"We would agree that some sort of hazing occurred ... and we are rectifying that," he said. That includes having new wrestling coaches, speaking with every student involved and their parents, and making internal changes, according to Dyer.

Coaches handbook: "We're spending considerable time this summer looking at our coaches' handbook (and) code of conduct ... revisiting those policies, making sure everyone's clear," he said.

Not everyone interviewed as part of the investigation revealed what was going on, according to Dyer.

Also, not everyone involved agrees hazing even happened.

"There are varied opinions about this," he said. "(But) we made it very clear in meeting with each of the students ... what our expectations are."

Dyer said he was unaware of allegations that wrestlers bit each other. He said he was told, after the fact, about Striebig confronting Nick.

"We did address that very thoroughly," he said.

'It happened': Fellow wrestler Anthony DeMarco, 17, said he doesn't blame Nick for speaking out.

"There was definitely hazing," Anthony said. "Coach let it happen all the time in practice."

He said he was hazed a couple times, "but Nick was hazed 10 times more than anyone else" because Nick was willing to laugh off the bullying and not complain.

Anthony said he heard Striebig make the "free hit on Shields" comment and witnessed about 13 fellow wrestlers kick, hit and punch Nick.

"Nobody was punching him as hard as they could," he said, adding he did not participate.

"I respect (Striebig), but what he taught us to do that day wasn't right," Anthony said.

Anthony said he's trying to stay out of the middle of the fray.

"Everyone's upset," he said. "They all think it's Nick's fault why Coach Striebig left, and they're taking it out on him."

On leave: Striebig resigned as Dallastown's varsity wrestling coach in May, saying he wanted to spend more time with his five children.

A high school math teacher, he remains on administrative leave. Dyer said a decision about whether to reinstate Striebig will be made after his legal case is resolved.

On May 31, Striebig was admitted into the county's Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition diversionary program for the disorderly conduct citation and ordered to perform 35 hours of community service.

People admitted into ARD don't have to admit guilt and can have their records expunged after successfully completing the program.

-- Staff writer Liz Evans Scolforo can also be reached at levans@yorkdispatch.com.