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Colleges & Universities Culture

Huntington University Stripped from Hosting Indiana State Track Meet Amid Abuse Allegations

The Indiana High School Athletic Association has stripped Huntington University from hosting the state semifinal track meet Oct. 22 in the wake of accusations of abuse in Huntington’s track and cross-country programs.

The meet was moved to Indiana Wesleyan University.

“With the issues surrounding the cross-country program at Huntington we felt the potential for a significant distraction was just too great. We certainly hope to return to Huntington for the 2023 tournament,” said Paul Neidig, commissioner of the IHSAA, in a statement.

The university, which is affiliated with the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, put cross-country coach Lauren Johnson and assistant Curtis Hines on administrative leave Oct. 6 after two former runners at the Christian liberal arts college filed a federal lawsuit against the school and several coaches Sept. 20.

The suit alleges criminal battery by former track coach Nick Johnson and negligence on the part of the university and other officials, including Lauren Johnson, who assumed her husband’s coaching role after he left.  

Nick Johnson was fired by Huntington in 2020 following allegations that his teams were run in a “cult-like” manner that included sexual and physical abuse and pressure to submit to doping, the IndyStar reported.

The lawsuit says Nick Johnson invited some team members to participate in a “study” and rubbed unknown substances on them during “treatments” and sexually assaulted them during massages, ESPN reported. 

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It alleges that Lauren Johnson and Hines, as well as university officials, knew about the abuse but did nothing.

The suit also asserts that Huntington violated Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or education program that receives funding from the federal government.

The university is part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and the Crossroads League, a conference of private Christian colleges in the Midwest.

More than 200 current and former women athletes signed a petition addressed to university president Sherilyn Emberton and the Huntington board of trustees urging the school to ban Lauren Johnson and Hines from campus and expressing their support for the two women who filed the lawsuit. 

“So let us say this very clearly, shepherds: there are wolves in the pen,” the petition says. “We understand that the pending lawsuit will account for how the wolves got there in the first place and why they were permitted to stay. But right now, we will call on you to do what shepherds do and remove the wolves.”

The university said in a statement that it “has and continues to provide a variety of opportunities and directed avenues for students who were impacted to be heard, obtain counseling services, and make Title IX inquiries” and remains “committed to providing a workplace and educational environment, as well as other benefits, programs, and activities, that are free from discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.”

Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.