It was supposed to be a harmless skit designed to rile up the crowd before a big football game.
Mitch Carter, dressed in a chicken costume, playfully shoved another student and then was rushed by a group of junior varsity football players who formed a dog pile. Cheerleaders joined in.
But the Bakersfield High School senior was harmed, says his attorney, Ralph Wegis. He sustained a traumatic brain injury, and now contends with psychological issues, anxiety and depression. Wegis says the district was negligent.
Now the case is headed to a civil trial Tuesday in Kern County Superior Court.
“We believe that safety is not the No. 1 priority at KHSD, or this case never would have occurred,” Wegis said, adding that even a 10-year-old would know better than to organize a skit like the one where Carter was hurt without providing appropriate security measures.
“It's kind of common sense,” Wegis said.
In a statement, KHSD attorney Michael Kellar said he is sorry for what happened to Carter, and that the district is disputing the severity and extent of injuries sustained.
The incident happened during a pep rally at Bakersfield High School in 2010 as students prepared for a championship game against Clovis West High School.
Carter, who was senior class president at the time, agreed to go out in the chicken costume, intending to look like the golden eagle mascot of Clovis West, but wanted to back out halfway through the pep rally when two football players tackled him before the larger scuffle occurred, Wegis said.
When Carter told the activities director that he wanted to quit, she encouraged him to press forward, Wegis said.
“When we're a student, adults have power over us, and we have respect for them, and they can be persuasive,” Wegis said.
Before that day, Carter was “Mr. Most Likely To Succeed,” Wegis said, describing him as a well-liked honors student and athlete who hoped one day to become a lawyer, doctor or maybe a firefighter.
“Right now all of his friends are graduating college … and he's working part-time cooking hamburgers,” Wegis said.
Carter once held a 3.2 GPA. Now he is struggling in college, having attempted 74 units, and flunked 40 of them, Wegis said.
“Think about being overwhelmed enough to cry, you think about being scared or anxious or depressed and you think about being frustrated because your mind doesn't work the way it used to,” Wegis said.
A district official at the time said that students “got a little too excited” when they saw a rival mascot. This isn't the first time this had happened, however.
Five years earlier, BHS teacher Bob Stone was one-half of a mustang costume depicting the Stockdale High School mascot. Stone sustained a torn rotator cuff, five broken ribs, a torn bicep muscle and lower back and shoulder injuries. He required neck surgery, Wegis said, and received $40,000 in compensation from the district.