Complete headline links to our Shoulberg series are at https://concussioninc.net/?p=10736.
by Irvin Muchnick
In future installments we’ll have more on legendary swim coach Dick Shoulberg’s wider connections — to the hierarchy of the American Swimming Coaches Association as well as that of USA Swimming; to papier–mâché anti-abuse spokesperson David Berkoff; and even to the late deranged murderer John du Pont, of the Steve Carell portrayal in the 2014 movie Foxcatcher.
But first, let me clean out my notebook — for now — with various additional nuggets on the sick Shoulberg and his sick and enabling institution, the Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. Thank you to the many local sources, inside and outside the school, who are helping Concussion Inc. flesh out this important story.
Shoulberg blows up after “A.L.” confesses.
Earlier today we published head of school James Connor’s October 21, 2013, letter to swim parents. Here is some of the background.
In early September 2013, supporters of “John Doe” in his struggles to get out from under the abuse of “A.L.” — a teammate who was regularly beating on him, stealing his clothes, and generally making life miserable — helped force a poolside meeting of the entire boys’ senior group, which Shoulberg and the coaching staff also attended. (This was at Germantown’s summer outdoor long-course venue, Lynnewood Gardens in Elkins Park. A number of key events in this chronology did not occur on Germantown Academy property.)
The boys told Shoulberg and his assistants about A.L.’s misconduct. (At least one relevant allegation emerging from this meeting isn’t in the lawsuit complaint: the time, at a golf course, when A.L. threatened to sodomize John Doe with a golf club.)
Shoulberg was hearing none of it, sources say. Finally, he turned to A.L. and asked him if these ridiculous complaints were true. Others at the meeting say A.L. hung his head and said, “Yes.”
Shoulberg then is quoted as saying, “I don’t want to hear any of this! These are all lies!” He stomped out of the meeting and drove off in his car.
John Doe is punished at practice, nearly to death.
A month before the pool meeting was the bucket incident. As the lawsuit complaint recounts, Shoulberg assistant Chris Lear went crazy and threw a metal bucket at John Doe while he was being forced to swim a 10,000-meter individual medley. (That is more than six miles of alternating backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and freestyle.) He kept swimming despite a bad cut on his hand from the bucket fling. The hand is still scarred.
On September 11, 2013, shortly after the pool meeting, John Doe and a supportive teammate reported these and other abuses to school staff and administrators. Sources have given us their names, but what is important for now is the way Shoulberg and the coaching staff retaliated against John Doe with an even more excruciating punishment practice set later that month. In heat approaching or exceeding 90 degrees, Shoulberg cleared out the pool and ordered John Doe, alone, to swim an additional four miles. The swimmer had a Gatorade bottle at the end of the lane. Theatrically, Shoulberg poured it out, sources say. “You’re not getting any of this,” the coach said. “You’re going to swim until you drop.” Some of the girls on the team were in tears watching this spectacle. When it was over, John Doe couldn’t drive himself home.
Shoulberg had bizarre electronic communications and flouted the rules in his return as “coach emeritus.”
An excellent example of Shoulberg’s imperial style with both swimmers and their parents was his email to all on September 18, 2012. The email had no subject line, no salutation, no signature. There was just one line: “It would be nice if the coaching staff was informed of health issues or injuries instead of hearing it from school staff/personnel.”
With that, the message spread to the kids and their mothers and fathers: don’t try squealing to higher authorities. And don’t whine with physical excuses not to swim.
December 2012 was the month of the winter-break training trip to Florida referenced in the lawsuit complaint, in which “A.L.’s” own personal terrorist — former Germantown and current University of Florida swimmer “A.F.” — did his number, and the cycle of abuse was perpetuated. And there was the incident in which Shoulberg and staff forced the kids to run in cold weather, jump in the pool with their sneakers on, swim, and then jump back out and run in heavy, soggy sneakers.
In October 2013 the Whitemarsh Township police came to the Fort Washington campus and began interviewing students about the A.L. allegations. On October 13, A.L. left Germantown Academy. In March 2014, A.L. appeared in juvenile court and pleaded out to charges. He was also “suspended” by USA Swimming for the months of April, May, and June.
By then, Shoulberg — who had been forced out of Germantown late in the fall after local news media accounts — had been reinstalled as “coach emeritus.” This was a purely face-saving, figurehead position, sources say. Under the terms of his return, Shoulberg was not allowed on the pool deck except between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the swim team members were in class. But Shoulberg regularly flouted that directive, and others.
Shoulberg then, as he had in the past, disobeyed rules regarding coaches’ texting of student-athletes. This was prohibited unless it had a specific athletic purpose — e.g., announcement of a change in the practice schedule. But Shoulberg, who was notorious for meddling in his swimmers’ social lives and demanding to dictate whom they could and couldn’t date, continued to text away. In the earlier police investigation of A.L., evidence emerged of the back-and-forth texts between him and the coach. Now in 2014, according to sources, at least two girl swimmers received texts in which Shoulberg either discredited John Doe or denigrated the girls’ own bodies.