Two former Lock Haven wrestlers from area recall treatment by old coach
Brock Parker’s nose was bloodied, but he didn’t think it was broken. He noticed he had bit through his bottom lip, too, as he stood outside the Lock Haven wrestling room.
He was confused, trying to figure out why Bald Eagles wrestling coach Robbie Waller had just “smashed his face off the wall” and thrown him out of practice in October of 2009.
Aaron Fry remembered the same feeling, standing in shock trying to figure out what had possessed his head coach to shove him into a set of stationary bikes in the practice room in late 2011.
Parker, a Canton graduate, and Fry, a Muncy graduate, recently came forward accusing the now departed head coach of both physical and verbal abuse during their time wrestling for Lock Haven.
The accusations shed some light on Waller’s mysterious departure from the school in May when university president Michael Fiorentino released the former NCAA wrestling champion from his contract after just four years as the head wrestling coach. Waller’s firing came after a 7-6 season and with the program trending upward in his time after replacing Rocky Bonomo.
Fiorentino said in a statement at the time he wanted to, “take the program in another direction.” Upon the release from his contract, Waller said in an email to Lock Haven wrestling supporters that he was given no other reason for the change .
According to Fry and Parker, the investigation into their accusations, as well as accusations from other wrestlers, preceded Waller’s dismissal.
Lock Haven University declined comment on the allegations, saying information regarding personnel can’t be discussed or distributed. The university, through executive assistant to the president Rodney Jenkins, would neither confirm nor deny an investigation had taken place.
Parker and Fry were both interviewed by campus police this spring after hearing of allegations. Fry and his mother Robbin, said the investigation began only after an anonymous phone call had been placed to campus police advising them to talk to Parker about his allegations.
Parker never previously told anybody of the altercation between he and Waller, not even his mother. It wasn’t until he told his account of the accusations to campus police that his mother, Lori Baker, knew of the altercation between Waller and her son. According to Parker, only the six or so wrestlers present in the practice room and an athletic trainer had witnessed the incident and Parker asked them not to tell authorities.
Waller, who initially agreed to answer questions about the allegations when contacted, did not reply to emails he asked to be sent with questions about the accusations.
Several current members of the Lock Haven wrestling team, who were either aware of the allegations or witnessed the incidents, declined comment.
Baker said she and Parker are exploring a lawsuit because they felt Parker was too intimidated to speak out.
According to both families, the investigation into abuse allegations this spring was not the first against Waller. Not long after the fall 2009 altercation between Waller and Parker, Parker said campus authorities questioned Waller. But when Waller denied anything happened, the case was closed.
Parker said he was never interviewed during that investigation.
“I didn’t even know that investigation happened until we went down to talk to (campus police) this year,” Parker said.
“The (stuff) that went on, nobody cared,” said Robbin Fry. “They just shoved it under the rug.”
Parker said there were no warning signs Waller was irritated with him prior to his altercation with the head coach in October of 2009. Parker had spent the fall gradually trying to drop weight to prepare himself to wrestle at 141 pounds for the 2009-2010 season.
It was his true sophomore season at Lock Haven after a career at Canton where he won a PIAA championship in 2008. He had spent all summer working out and talking with redshirt sophomore Jarred Kane, who was likely also going to be a 149-pound wrestler to start the season. Kane, who was pushing 200 pounds in the offseason, and Parker decided it would be best for the team if Parker cut to 141 for the season since he weighed 174 naturally.
Waller agreed, and Parker began his cut to 141 pounds gradually thanks to a diet program put together by the Lock Haven training staff. Parker said he followed the plan, and routine weekly weigh-ins had him right on track to be ready for the Binghamton Open, Lock Haven’s first event of the season in November, 2009.
Parker said Waller called him the night before his weekly weigh-in, about three weeks prior to the Binghamton Open, and asked Parker about his weight. Parker vividly remembered saying his weight was 149.5.
He ate the meals like he was supposed to, and hydrated like he was supposed to before practice the next day. With only about a half-dozen wrestlers in the practice room, Waller walked in and asked Parker to come see him and asked him again what he weighed.
When Parker said he weighed in that day at 150.1, Waller grabbed him by back the back of his neck and the arm and “smashed his face off the wall,” said Parker.
“It was so fast that I didn’t even react,” Parker said. “The only thing I did when I hit the wall was I looked at him, like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on?’ Then he grabbed me, opened the door with his back and throws me out and says, ‘Get the (expletive) out of here. I didn’t say anything to him. I didn’t have anything to say.”
Parker left practice and didn’t try to confront Waller. Waller repeatedly tried calling Parker that night, but Parker said he never answered. It wasn’t until a teammate called Parker, and said Waller was threatening to throw Parker off the team, that he returned a call.
“I didn’t answer because I didn’t have anything to say to him that wasn’t going to be taken in the wrong way,” Parker said. “I told (him) the only things I have to say to (Waller) are things that will give him a reason to throw me off the team.”
The two spoke later in the night. Waller said he was mad because Parker had lied to him about his weight after weighing more than he had the day before when they talked. Parker tried to explain that he was only six-tenths of a pound over from the previous day, despite eating and drinking as his diet plan instructed.
Parker also said he usually lost 2 or 3 pounds during a standard practice and was going to leave practice that day at a minimum of 148 pounds with three weeks to go before the Binghamton Open.
“He said he wanted me at 141 as soon as possible. I told him I could be there in the morning, but I wouldn’t be able to sustain it,” Parker said. “So I said I can’t cut weight for you. I said I’m going to 149 and I’ll wrestle off for it. Kane and I were no longer friends after that. We were good friends before that, but essentially I’m now going to take his spot.”
But Parker said even the wrestle-offs were sketchy. Lock Haven didn’t have a public intrasquad dual that year, and instead did wrestle-offs and other exhibition matches in the practice room. When Waller asked Parker who he wanted to wrestle, Parker chose to wrestle assistant coach Teyon Ware, a first-year volunteer assistant who was a two-time national champion at Oklahoma.
After losing 4-2 to Ware, Parker said Waller allowed a 20-minute break before wrestling Kane for the starting spot at 149. Parker protested, but wrestled Kane and won, 8-4.
Kane and Parker wrestled off again prior to the Binghamton Open. But Parker said Waller, who officiated the wrestle-offs, would quickly stale-mate the action when Kane would shoot and get tangled up in a front headlock. Parker used that move to thwart offensive attacks and open up scoring opportunities.
Parker said late in the match he led Kane by a point when Waller called him for fleeing the mat despite countering a Kane shot and landing in bounds. The point forced overtime where Parker said he hit a double-leg takedown to win the match.
“I told Waller, if you didn’t want me to win, then don’t have me wrestle-off,” Parker said. “I lost a lot of respect for him after that, and I didn’t feel like I was his wrestler, either. I didn’t want to compete for him after that. That was the last straw for him and I.”
Parker continued to practice with the team, wrestling through November and December. But he warned his backup, Zach Kell, that he was likely going to leave the team after the PSAC tournament in early December. Kell wasn’t ready to make 149 pounds to take over, so Parker stayed on the team for an additional month.
He won the PSAC tournament that year, upsetting eventual All-American Torsten Gillespie of Edinboro in the semifinals before beating Bloomsburg’s Josh Roosa in the finals. Parker won the tournament as the No. 5 seed.
Prior to the finals, he asked Waller to not sit in his corner during the match against Roosa. Ever since the altercation in the practice room, Parker had lost his trust and willingness to compete for Waller. He had latched on to assistant coach Matt Lackey, a former national champion at Illinois, who had taken Parker under his wing.
Waller and Parker rarely interacted during practice, and Parker said the tension was thick. Waller was understandably upset about Parker’s request, but he conceded his seat to Lackey and Ware.
“I didn’t want to go to battle with the guy or for him,” Parker said. “When I beat Torsten in the semis, he called injury time just as I was about to get a takedown that would have won the match. I looked at Waller first and there was just nothing there. Lackey jumped out and was just a ball of fire. Waller wasn’t happy when I said I wanted Teyon and Lackey in my corner, but I knew who I wanted to wrestle for.”
Parker said he was never worried about another incident occurring because of the response from his teammates. He said after the altercation, teammates told him the practice room was silent for the entire workout, and for the rest of his time with the team practices were always tense.
He had begun to get sick more often than usual and would come home on weekends. He then started coming home during the week because of being sick. Baker said she knew it was because of some kind of stress her son was dealing with, but he never told her of the preseason incident.
Parker, who was carrying a 3.0 grade-point average despite, by his own accounts, never being a great student in high school, also saw his schoolwork begin to suffer.
The whole situation had soured Parker on wrestling. Even though he wasn’t cutting weight to get to 141 pounds like he initially thought he would have to, he didn’t want to compete anymore. So he gave Kell one final warning, and following a late January dual-meet against Edinboro, Parker told Waller he was leaving the team.
Waller, after the Saturday night match, told Parker he’d give him until Monday to come back. Parker said he didn’t need until Monday. He packed up his locker and never competed for Lock Haven again, despite being nationally ranked.
“I wasn’t burned out at all. I just didn’t want to be there, and I didn’t want to tell anyone why I didn’t want to be there,” Parker said. “I would call home and tell my mom and my Godfather I don’t want to wrestle anymore. It was weird, because since the day I decided I wanted to be a state champ, all I did was wrestle. My life revolved around it.
“I just wasn’t into it, and normally, I’m really into it. I was just in a mood I didn’t feel comfortable being in. I think I just called home because I wanted a magical option out of nowhere. I wanted someone to say you can do this, too. I was hoping someone would come up with another solution I just couldn’t see.”
The only solution Parker could come up with was to transfer. He began talking with then-athletic director Sharon Taylor about what it would take go to a different school.
Waller agreed to sign off on Parker’s transfer as long he didn’t go to another Division I school. According to Parker, Waller said he didn’t want to compete against his former wrestler. So Parker found a home at East Stroudsburg, which was in its first year as a Division II program, for the fall semester in 2010.
Parker’s godfather had family in the East Stroudsburg area, giving Parker someone to turn to should he need anything. But Parker never regained his love for wrestling, even in a new environment. He was very complimentary of the Warriors’ program and the school, but he said he just never felt at home at East Stroudsburg the way he did at Lock Haven.
Parker left East Stroudsburg after just one semester. He was a prison guard at the Bradford County Prison for a year before enrolling at Mansfield University, where he’s working toward a degree in criminal justice.
Lock Haven was already in Parker’s rear-view mirror by the time Waller approached Fry about attending the Clinton County campus. Fry had primarily been considering Division III schools like Wilkes and Elizabethtown when Waller came calling toward the end of the 2009-2010 season.
Waller offered a scholarship plan to the Muncy senior, which all but had him going to school for free. It was a tough offer to turn down, especially in the wake of his mom, Robbin, being laid off from her job in graphic design.
Wilkes and Elizabethtown had offered financial aid which would have covered about half of the $42,000-$47,000 a year it could cost to attend either school. The offer from Waller couldn’t have come at a better time, and despite the advice from an assistant coach within District 4 who told Fry not to go to a Division I school, Fry accepted the scholarship to Lock Haven.
Fry said he quickly learned, though, Waller was a mix of two different people. There was the person he would be when there were others around, the kind, cordial person who would lay on the charm thick for parents in recruiting pitches.
There was also the Waller, who behind closed doors, was vastly different, according to Fry. He and his mother had gotten along with Waller during his time he recruited Fry. He noticed a change in the head coach as soon as he got in the practice room.
“Sometimes he’d be real nice and ask how your day was going. Other times he was just a (expletive). He’d be mean about everything and just be an (expletive),” Fry said. “He was a hot and cold guy. Hit or miss. We’d sit in a circle and talk before practice in the room and we’d just dread when the door opened up. I guarantee there wasn’t a kid that liked him.”
Fry said Waller would often single out wrestlers and yell at them, telling them they were awful wrestlers, or pointing out who in the room was better than them. Fry said it went beyond the tough love aspect which often comes with Division I wrestling.
“Behind closed doors, he wasn’t the good guy you thought he was,” Fry said. “You’d get in the practice room and see how he really treated kids, yelling at them and swearing at them. I saw it pretty much right away.”
Fry said the abuse was almost always more verbal than physical. But he had one encounter which turned physical.
Waller didn’t like the way Fry was wrestling during a practice in his redshirt freshman season in 2011-2012 and Waller allegedly yelled at him to get up and ride the stationary bikes, which are usually present in a wrestling practice room.
Fry said Waller pushed him initially toward the bikes, and then again, almost as a ‘get going’ push. But his final push was a shove, which caused Fry to fall over the bikes.
“He grabbed me and threw me into the bikes,” Fry said. “I was shocked that he actually did that. Pretty much the whole room just stopped and stared.”
Fry finished out the 2011-2012 season and even wrestled for the team during the 2012-2013 season. He said the team was practicing when campus police came into the practice room to inform Waller the incidents were being investigated.
Fry said he began to talk about the incident with campus investigators after hearing from campus police officer Frank Shoemaker. Fry said Shoemaker was also interested in anything which had happened to any other wrestlers as far as physical or mental abuse.
By this time though, Fry already knew he wasn’t coming back to wrestle for Lock Haven. He did stay in school, and is on pace to graduate with a degree in criminal justice. He’s already had offers to work at prisons once he graduates.
Even had Fry known Waller was going to be let go, he said he likely wouldn’t have stayed on the team.
“He put a sour taste in my mouth for wrestling,” Fry said. “Wrestling just isn’t fun anymore. I miss the sport, but I just don’t have any desire to wrestle anymore, really. I haven’t even thought about going back. I miss it, but I don’t miss it. We talked about sticking it out for the scholarship, but I’m not going to bust my (butt) in the practice room if I don’t really want to do it. If I’m going to be busting my (butt), I want to be working for something, not just doing it for the money. My heart wasn’t in it, so I didn’t want to do it.”
Waller hasn’t coached collegiately since Lock Haven released him from his contract in May. In an email written to supporters and parents of Lock Haven wrestlers just prior to the news of his departure being released, Waller said he was being compensated for the remainder of the 2012-2013 academic year, and was also receiving full salary ($65,000 per year, according to his contract), health benefits and retirement contributions for the 2013-2014 academic year.
Waller also said in his email he would be receiving a “personal letter of recommendation as I pursue future collegiate coaching and other professional opportunities.”
Fry and his mother, Robbin, said the email was infuriating to the team and its parents.
“You know he knew damn well why he was getting fired,” Aaron Fry said. “He knew there was an investigation.”