Star Player Sues Ex-School In Bullying Case

February 16, 2011 / (Minn.)

Former Memorial High School (Wis.) basketball player Wally Ellenson is suing the Eau Claire school district, claiming district employees failed to protect him from bullying, intimidating behavior and harassment by Old Abes coach Greg Van Grunsven and teammates.

The lawsuit filed in Eau Claire County Court by Ellenson and his parents, John and Holly Ellenson, states the incidents of harassment and intimidation reached the point to which the family was forced to move to Rice Lake.

Wally Ellenson withdrew from Memorial in November 2009 and transferred to Rice Lake High School. He is a junior this school year and leads the Big Rivers Conference in scoring.

The Ellensons are seeking an unspecified amount of compensatory damages for expenses, including attorney fees, medical bills and moving costs.

Superintendent Ron Heilmann had not seen the suit on Tuesday and declined to comment on it. However, Heilmann has attended the Memorial-Rice Lake boys basketball games for the past two years at Memorial High School.

“From what I’ve seen there, it would seem to indicate no ill will between Memorial players, Memorial coaches and young Mr. Ellenson,” Heilmann said.

Van Grunsven did not return a phone call seeking comment.

According to the Ellensons’ complaint:

Prior to the 2008-09 basketball season, Ellenson was a good student, an avid basketball player and mild-mannered. Beginning in early 2009, some of his fellow students and teammates began to act toward

him in an “aggressive, intimidating and harassing manner.”

Van Grunsven also engaged in that conduct and “encouraged, permitted and tolerated” the same behavior directed specifically at Ellenson by his teammates.

In June 2009, John Ellenson, a counselor for the Eau Claire school district, notified Memorial’s then-principal, Tim Leibham, that his son was being bullied and subjected to aggressive conduct, and Leibham said he would investigate, but the behavior continued.

In fall 2009, John and Holly Ellenson each advised Leibham of Van Grunsven’s conduct and asked for a meeting. John Ellenson met with the principal and coach. Instead of things getting better, the bullying of Wally Ellenson by his teammates and Van Grunsven intensified.

On or about Sept. 29, 2009, one of his teammates punched or elbowed Ellenson in the nose while on the basketball court at Memorial, and Ellenson sought medical attention for his injuries.

Sue Steffes, assistant principal and athletic director, informed the coach of the incident, but nothing was done to prevent future incidents of bullying or aggression toward Ellenson.

On or about Oct. 29, 2009, Ellenson was grabbed around the neck from behind by a teammate while he was attempting to dunk a basketball. Ellenson spun around to the floor and was injured. As he walked off the court, another teammate shoved him and told him he wanted to meet in the parking lot.

The coach supervising the gym contacted Van Grunsven by phone and requested he come to the school because of the incident. When Van Grunsven arrived, he met with the three boys involved in the incident and told them to work out their disagreements off school property, as he felt it was best he not be involved.

The family first filed a notice of claim with the school district on April 23 of last year, and district officials denied the claim on Aug. 12, according to court records.

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