Abusive Swim Coaching Legend Dick Shoulberg’s Germantown Academy Gets a Fresh Coat of Psychobabble

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by Irvin Muchnick


Does anyone remember John Doe v. Germantown Academy? If not, then this prep school in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia, has you right where it wants you.

February 5 marked the first anniversary of the filing of the civil lawsuit alleging harassment and abuse of a student swimmer in the program of now-defrocked Germantown and USA Swimming coaching legend Dick Shoulberg — some of the harassment and abuse by the coach himself, some of it by another swimmer with the coach’s ongoing lookaway passes.

The case, of which Concussion Inc. began extensive coverage at the time, is still in the pre-trial discovery and motion phase. Germantown’s defense lawyers are using familiar scorched-earth litigation tactics; these include a failed effort to out the name of the victim-complainant, a minor at all relevant times of the allegations, whose identity is well known inside the community.

In the meantime, Germantown is holding an event on March 9 to unveil the findings of a school survey on bullying conducted by author and expert Sue Swearer of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The survey results will be the jumping-off point for breakout seminars on the campus “climate,” as division heads and counselors communicate “future plans to promote social/emotional skill development and empathy.”

Call it touchy-feely for the age of Trump.

How much does an academic enabler of institutional butt-covering get paid for a gig like this? I can’t tell you: Swearer, the Willa Cather Professor of School Psychology at UNL, hasn’t responded to my email queries.

But heads do seem to be rolling in the Germantown administration — albeit at a slow enough pace to avert admission of liability. and in turn financial exposure for the outrages against John Doe and others before him.

Jim Fenerty is retiring as athletic director at the end of the 2016/17 academic year. And somewhere along the way, Jim Connor, the head of school who seemed to spend as much time blowing off complaints about Shoulberg as he did shaping curriculum and pedagogy, already departed; his successor is Rich Schelhas. In welcoming remarks at the Germantown website, Schelhas says, “As much as we challenge [students] with compelling and rigorous academics, we also challenge them to embody goodness, to embrace character, and to give of themselves generously so that they may become knowledgeable, ethical leaders who advocate for themselves, for what is right, for each other, and for others.”

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick