Unsanctioned High School MMA? That’s A Lawsuit

One of the few problems MMA faces in gaining acceptance among American culture is that it’s, to the untrained eye, virtually indistinguishable from a common brawl. “Okay,” the person thinks, “they’re just taking swings at each other with their shirts off. And now one of them is bleeding so game over.” There’s plenty more to the sport, of course, just like there’s more to football than people running into each other and falling over, but it takes a modicum of knowledge that not everybody has - especially if you want to do it on your own.

High School MMA
(Note: this would be the correct way to introduce MMA to your high schoolers.)

And speaking of people who don’t usually know nearly as much about things as they think they do, high schoolers! In this instance, it’s students at Blue Springs, Missouri (a suburb of Kansas City, and hometown of NFL tailback Ladell Betts). Their usual wrestling practice had been canceled, but some wrestlers had shown up anyway, and sayyyy, here’s some MMA gloves! What could go wrong?

Plenty, as it turns out; especially if one student’s mouth gets wrecked… while an assistant coach looks on and cheers. Oh, and there’s video.


Samuel Gomez, a junior and former member of the wrestling team at Blue Springs, filed the lawsuit that seeks damages in excess of $25,000 against the school district. According to the lawsuit, around Oct. 1, 2008, a preseason workout was canceled, but some wrestlers remained in the practice room. One team member pulled out MMA-style sparring gloves while another young man shot video footage of wrestlers partaking in an MMA fight.

According to Dan Baylard, the Gomez family’s attorney, a Blue Springs assistant wrestling coach, James Williamson, watched and cheered. Mixed martial arts fighting is a full contact combat sport that combines boxing, wrestling and martial arts.

During his fight, Gomez suffered two broken teeth, and another tooth was knocked out. Later that night, Gomez spent two hours in a dentist’s chair, had a rod placed in his mouth and later needed two root-canal surgeries that cost more than $7,000. Gomez’s family expects to spend at least $20,000 more on future surgeries.

$27,000 in dental damages? Ouch.

Ordinarily, this suit probably wouldn’t have traction, but the Gomez family’s got two big factors on their side. One, the fact that an assistant coach was there and didn’t immediately put an end to the “MMA” (we use quotes, because clearly this was just fighting with gloves on) gives the impression that the fighting was sanctioned. After all, even if a practice is canceled, a coach–even an assistant–should reasonably be considered an agent and representative of the school, no?

Second, as we mentioned before, there’s video of the incident:


While it’s unclear if Gomez’s injuries occur during or after the footage, it is clear that the activities went on for a prolonged amount of time - at least two minutes - and that Coach Williamson doesn’t even make a cursory attempt to stop them. Very bad news.

It’s also probably not going to sit well that - surprise! - the school may have engaged in a little intimidation in order to make the parents’ concerns go away:

In the aftermath of Gomez’s fight, Baylard said that the Gomez family confronted [head wrestling coach Mike] Hagerty and also exchanged e-mails regarding the matter. The family sought an incident report to be written about the brawl. Initially, according to Baylard, their demand was rebuffed. Baylard said Hagerty told the father if an incident report was written, it would be categorized as “fighting” and Gomez could be expelled from the high school.

“I think the entire family definitely viewed that as a threat,” Baylard said.

And here’s the thing - had we not seen the coach in the video encouraging the behavior, Hagerty would have been right. After all, as we mentioned before, this barely qualifies as “MMA” and is more like, well, a common brawl. That’s definitely not allowed on any school property, regardless of whether the combatants are wearing sparring gloves, and Gomez would have been open to disciplinary measures.

But Williamson was there, and the lawsuit alleges that this sort of thing wasn’t altogether foreign to the program; another assistant coach was a former MMA fighter himself, and the wrestling program’s t-shirts bore the UFC logo. We’re not attorneys, but we’re thinking the school and district have quite a challenge in front of them if they want to avoid paying Gomez’s medical bills.