Ex-Lock Haven Wrestler Sues Ex-Coach Bonomo, Others

WILLIAMSPORT – A former Lock Haven University wrestler has filed a lawsuit against the university’s athletic director, former wrestling coach and president claiming the university tried to force him to wrestle when injured, and violated his freedom of speech by limiting his ability to speak out against the school.

Landis Wright filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Williamsport.

Listed as defendants are Athletic Director Sharon E. Taylor, former coach Anthony “Rocky “Bonomo, who retired from his post earlier this month, and university President Dr. Keith T. Miller.

The lawsuit states Wright, now 21, was one of the nation’s “most promising young wrestlers, “and ranked third in the state and seventh in the nation when a senior at Bald Eagle Area High School at Wingate.

The suit states Bonomo offered Wright a $10,000 per year scholarship to attend the university up to five years. The suit states Bonomo also offered Landis’ younger brother, Quentin Wright, a full scholarship as well. The suit alleges that violated NCAA rules, as Quentin was only a high school sophomore at the time.

Bonomo also told Landis and his parents he could lift and workout on his own regime, and the university would give him extra attention to help him succeed academically in spite of a reading disability, the suit states.

Landis subsequently signed a national letter of intent to attend LHU and wrestle for the Bald Eagles before entering the university as an undergraduate in the fall of 2006.

During his first year, Landis qualified to train at the Olympic Training Center, in addition to finishing third at the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Tournament and fifth at the Eastern Wrestling League Tournament before finishing his freshman season with a 24-12 record.

Landis “seriously “injured his shoulder during a wrestling match on Jan. 26, 2008. The injury, the suit states, was later diagnosed as a separated shoulder by a doctor at Mt. Nittany Medical Center in State College, though a university trainer, “with Mr. Bonomo’s knowledge and encouragement, “only applied ice to the injury that night and said it would be examined in two days.

The suit states that a Mount Nittany emergency room physician told Landis not to wrestle or participate in any sport for several weeks, and he would need at least four to six weeks of rehabilitation.

A surgeon later advised Landis he could risk permanent injury to his shoulder and never wrestle again if he did not rest, according to the lawsuit.

Despite the injury, Bonomo allegedly pressed Landis to wrestle during practices leading up to a match against Bloomsburg University three weeks later, court papers state.

Before the Bloomsburg match, Bonomo allegedly pressured Landis to wrestle in the match and the team’s trainer allegedly offered to administer an injection to numb his shoulder, the suit states. Landis refused both offers.

Landis and his father, Paul Wright, later met with Taylor on Feb. 12, 2008. However, the papers state, six people from the university were present, causing “Landis and Paul to feel pressured by Lock Haven and its coaching staff.”

During the meeting, the Wrights raised their knowledge and beliefs that NCAA violations were occurring at LHU with respect to the wrestling team, including excessive weight loss, impermeable sweat suits, sweat rooms and pushing injured athletes to wrestle, the suit states.

“During the meeting, Ms. Taylor told Landis he could have his scholarship at Lock Haven if Landis would sit in the bleachers and keep quiet, “the suit states.

Landis later met with university Provost Dr. Roger Johnson stating his concerns with Bonomo and Taylor.

Dr. Miller wrote to Landis and his father on April 16, 2008, advising them that an investigation would be conducted regarding Landis’ formal complaint, the suit states.

The suit alleges Taylor conducted “the so-called ‘investigation’ “even though Taylor was part of the meeting on Feb. 12, when she allegedly led Landis and his father to believe she was prepared to provide financial aid to Landis if he would quietly “sit in the bleachers.”

Further, the suit states wrestlers who were interviewed as part of the investigation could not be candid because they were questioned two at a time instead of individually.

Following the meetings and the investigation, the suit states Landis was precluded from participating in the wrestling program.

Bonomo then allegedly informed Landis he was not on the wrestling team on Sept. 9, 2008. However, Bonomo denied he told Landis that on Sept. 18, 2008, the suit states. He was then left off the wrestling roster when published on Sept. 22, 2008.

The suit states Taylor and Bonomo removed Landis’ scholarship. Dr. Miller then allegedly caused his tuition bills to be paid, but did not restore his athletic scholarship, according to court papers.

Landis tried to rejoin the team in September of this year by attending mandatory team meetings and necessary team paperwork, but he was told by the associate head coach he was no longer on the team because he had missed the deadline to submit team paperwork and had missed two team training sessions.

Paul spoke to the university’s Board of Trustees last April about the allegations.

Trustee Don Houser made a motion asking the trustees to approve an independent investigation by the NCAA of the wrestling program, but he failed to gain a second supporting vote.

University Director of Marketing and Communications Mary White responded the university does not comment on litigation that is in process.

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