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Thursday, April 25, 2019 12:15 am

Tennis, anyone?

University sued by former player

 

With fewer than 1,000 students, Quincy University isn’t big. At nearly $41,000 a year for tuition, room and board, it isn’t cheap. And with 19 sports in a break-even athletic department that runs on more than $6 million a year, the school isn’t immune from sports scandals.

The university, according to a pending federal lawsuit filed in Springfield by a former men’s tennis player, reneged on promises for a four-year scholarship and otherwise made life so difficult for the plaintiff that he required counseling. Daniel R. Lozier II, who is attending college elsewhere and no longer plays intercollegiate tennis, is asking for more than $10 million, plus legal fees. Lozier’s experience at Quincy, says his lawyer, was sufficiently miserable that resultant psychological difficulties have kept him from the tennis court.

“We think a strong message needs to be sent,” says Pat Sheehan, Jr., Lozier’s attorney. “That’s why the amount is so high.”

Recruited from Florida, Lozier lasted less than a year as a Quincy Hawk, playing his last match in 2017. He wasn’t a typical high school player, having been home-schooled while starring on a Florida high school team. Online courses, he told a Florida television station after signing his letter of intent, left him more time to hone his tennis game. “So what I do is, I wake up, do all my work in three hours and come back and work out here and play for three or four hours,” he told a reporter.

His dedication paid off. In 2016, Tennis Recruiting Network ranked him the nation’s 611th best junior player, up considerably from his 991st ranking in 2013. “Keep in mind he was our No. 1 player as a sophomore playing seniors,” his high school coach told the Panama City News Herald when Lozier, then a senior, qualified for the men’s singles state tournament in 2016 – seeded fourth, he lost in the second round. “Regardless of how good you are skill-wise, the mental maturity makes a difference.”

Quincy gave Lozier a tennis scholarship worth $27,000 in the first year, and he expected it to be renewed, even increased, each year until he graduated. But, by the spring of his freshman year in 2017, problems emerged.

According to the lawsuit, former coach Brian Holzgrafe, a defendant who left his coaching position at the conclusion of the 2017 season, called Lozier a “privileged white boy from the South.” Players used drugs and alcohol, Lozier claims, with an assistant coach providing either or both and Holzgrafe knowing it.

In the spring of 2017, someone – Lozier says that it wasn’t him – alleged that Holzgrafe was having an inappropriate relationship with someone in the women’s tennis program. The university launched an investigation.

Investigators came to tennis practice, according to the lawsuit, and asked Holzgrafe for permission to speak with Lozier, who left practice for the interview. After being assured he was speaking in confidence, Lozier says he told investigators that a teammate had told him about the coach’s alleged inappropriate relationship and that players via texts had discussed the possibility that Holzgrafe might lose his job. Lozier also complained about drugs and alcohol in the tennis program and told investigators that Holzgrafe, while driving a rental van, had struck a vehicle during a team trip to Fort Myers but didn’t stop or report the accident that occurred with players aboard. He also said that the coach had driven while strumming a ukulele and steering with his knees.

When Lozier returned to practice after speaking with investigators, Holzgrafe berated him and kicked him off the team, according to the lawsuit. Shortly afterward, Lozier says, the coach sent him a text message: “Why would you do this? What have I done to deserve this terrible lie?” Former teammates ostracized him, Lozier says, and one depicted him as a rat and a snake in pictures drawn during a class.

Lozier says the coach disclosed confidential medical information about him to others. In court documents, Holzgrafe denies the claim while also saying that Lozier himself disclosed “alleged private facts” to others. The lawsuit provides no details on Lozier’s medical condition. “It’s a mental health type thing,” said Sheehan, who declined to provide details.

The university, Lozier says, did nothing when he complained that he was suffering retaliation. Instead, he says that he was told to do schoolwork the same way he had in high school: “Plaintiff was advised by (Quincy University) that he should complete the remainder of the semester online from a remote location off the (Quincy University) campus.”

Holzgrafe resigned his coaching position at the end of the 2017 season, after Lozier left the team. Both he and the university have denied any wrongdoing in court documents responding to Lozier’s lawsuit.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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