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President of top U.S. high school for football steps down after hazing alleged

The Rev. Walter E. Jenkins was introduced as the president of Mater Dei High School in February. He vowed to investigate hazing, but now he's moving on.
Image: Mater Dei High School
Mater Dei High School players stretch before a game against St. John Bosco High School at Santa Ana Stadium in Santa Ana, Calif., on April 17.John W. McDonough / Sports Illustrated via Getty Images file

The president of Mater Dei High School in California, a Catholic prep academy whose top-ranked football team was accused of hazing in a lawsuit in last year, has stepped down.

The exit of the president, the Rev. Walter E. Jenkins, has nothing to do with the allegations, and connecting the two would be "unfair," a spokesperson for the school said Saturday.

"There is no connection between the litigation and his departure from the school and to make such a connection is deeply unfair to Father Jenkins who served Mater Dei well during his tenure," communications director Allison Bergeron said by email.

The Rev. Walter E. Jenkins.
The Rev. Walter E. Jenkins.Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange

Jenkins is returning to his religious order in South Bend, Indiana, to take on a new assignment, Erin Barisano, the superintendent schools for the Diocese of Orange, said in a letter to parents, students and supporters. His exit is effective next week.

The lawsuit was filed in Orange County Superior Court by an unnamed Mater Dei football player, who alleged that he was struck multiple times in the face and the head by a heavier player in a hazing game of pain tolerance called "bodies."

The Orange County Register reported Saturday that Jenkins’ departure also followed tension with Bruce Rollinson, the head coach who has run the high school's football program since the 1989 season. Rollinson has been credited with lifting the team to a championship level that draws powerful supporters and wealthy donors to the private school in Santa Ana, southeast of Los Angeles.

Jenkins was introduced as president in February, and one of his last acts was to hire a Sacramento law firm to conduct an independent investigation of the hazing allegations.

"Father's departure will not affect the progress of the independent investigation which will commence when school resumes next week," Bergeron said. "The Diocese of Orange and Mater Dei remain committed to student safety and academic excellence."

Barisano, the superintendent, said a new president would be announced "very shortly."

CORRECTION (Jan. 2, 2022, 6:15 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated when the lawsuit was filed. It was filed last year, not in 2020. The article also misstated the last name of the superintendent of schools in the Diocese of Orange. She is Erin Barisano, not Jenkins.