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High school football hazing led to brain damage, according to suit against California powerhouse Mater Dei

The teen was struck multiple times in the face and the head, leading to permanent scars and a “traumatic brain injury,” the lawsuit against the Catholic school claims.

A teenager suffered brain damage and other injuries from a brutal high school football hazing ritual, according to a lawsuit against a prominent Southern California school and the Catholic diocese.

The anonymous plaintiff, a player for Mater Dei High School born in 2004, filed the civil action Tuesday through his anonymous guardian in Orange County Superior Court. Mater Dei, of Santa Ana, southeast of Los Angeles, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange are named as defendants in the complaint, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News.

While he was preparing for the football team’s Covid-delayed spring season, the youngster on Feb. 4 engaged with his teammates in a game of “Bodies,” a Mater Dei ritual in which one student punches another as many times as possible before the person surrenders, according to the complaint filed by Costa Mesa-based lawyer Brian L. Williams.

The plaintiff was struck multiple times in the face and the head during the hazing, leading to permanent scars and a “traumatic brain injury” marked by “pain, slurred speech and cognitive dysfunction,” Williams wrote.

The lawsuit alleges that during the beating, the victim, who is white, was called the N-word several times by his attacker and another teammate.

The complaint said Monarchs coach Bruce Rollinson is well aware of the hazing rituals. He is not named as a defendant.

Rollinson is alleged to have told the victim’s father that he was in an untenable position as far as disciplining the attacker was concerned, according to the suit, because the youngster’s father was an assistant football coach at Mater Dei.

“If I had a hundred dollars for every time these kids played Bodies or Slappies, I’d be a millionaire,” Rollinson told the victim’s father, the lawsuit claims.

Rollinson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Allison Bergeron, Mater Dei’s executive director of communications, declined to comment on behalf of both the school and the diocese.

“At this time, we cannot comment due to pending litigation,” she said.

Mater Dei’s president, the Rev. Walter E. Jenkins, addressed the allegations in a statement to students and their families Wednesday night.

“As many of you may have seen, recent media coverage references deeply disturbing accusations about our football program and administration,” Jenkins wrote. “In light of pending litigation and privacy constraints, I am limited in my ability to address the matter with our community.

“It pains me to hear about any student suffering harm of any kind on our campus,” he said. “My heartfelt prayers go out to the affected student and family.”

Santa Ana police investigated the matter, and detectives reported their findings to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, lawyers for the plaintiff said. The district attorney’s office declined to comment Wednesday.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, involves one of the country’s most powerful high school football programs, which has produced two Heisman Trophy winners and many NFL players.

Mater Dei is the country’s top-rated football team, according to rankings by USA Today and the high school sports website MaxPreps.

The Monarchs play for the Southern Section Division I title Friday against Orange County rival Servite High School.