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By Corky Siemaszko and Elizabeth Chuck
An Ohio wrestling coach and booster who organized tournaments that gave him access to hundreds of young athletes over several decades has been accused of child endangerment and hazing.
Bart Freidenberg, who is currently the sports director for AAU Wrestling in Ohio, was charged on Friday with the offenses, which officials told NBC News involved a 15-year-old victim. Freidenberg did not immediately return a call from NBC News on Monday, and it was not clear when his arraignment was.
An attorney for Freidenberg, Mark Minister, declined to speak to NBC News.
“As you can imagine, the situation is fluid, and at this juncture, it’s a ‘no comment’ situation,” Minister said.
The incident allegedly happened in June 2018 while the Ohio All-Star Wrestling Team, the team Freidenberg coached, was renting school facilities in Franklin, Ohio, before leaving for a wrestling tour on the West Coast, according to a press release from Franklin police chief Russ Whitman.
“During the practices in Franklin, Ohio one of the juvenile wrestlers from Cincinnati called his parents to come pick him up early. Once the family picked him up, it was found that the juvenile was a victim of a hazing incident. The incident was reported to the police,” Whitman said in the press release, adding that Freidenberg was allegedly “aware of the hazing event(s) and failed to put stop to it.”
No Franklin students or staff members were involved in the incident, Whitman said.
In a phone conversation with NBC News, Whitman said officials were not releasing much information about the alleged hazing “because we’re hoping that others victims come forward.”
The wrestlers on the team were from across Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania, he said, and he asked that others contact the Franklin Police Department if they had been a victim of hazing.
Freidenberg, 58, also has a long history as a wrestling coach at the Bexley Middle School in the Columbus suburb of Bexley, Ohio.
From 2017 to 2018, Freidenberg was the assistant wrestling coach at the school, according to Mary Davis, the administrative assistant to the superintendent.
Prior to that, Freidenberg was head coach from 1993 to 1995 and co-head coach from 1992 to 1993, Davis said.
According to a resume Freidenberg posted online, he claimed to have been the “wrestling manager” at Ohio State University from 1979 to 1982 — which is the same time frame that team doctor Richard Strauss was allegedly sexually abusing wrestlers.
An Ohio State spokesman said Freidenberg was never an employee of the university but confirmed he was enrolled at the school from Autumn 1978 through Spring 1984.
An independent law firm is currently investigating the accusations against Strauss, who died in 2005, and whether top officials at the school took any steps to stop the alleged abuse.
Also, several former wrestlers have accused powerful GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, a former assistant wrestling coach at OSU, with turning a blind eye to the alleged abuse. Jordan has repeatedly denied knowing anything about Strauss.
Freidenberg also says on his resume that he was the head wrestling coach at another Columbus-area school called Watkins Middle School from 1997 to 2002. The school district confirmed that to NBC News.
In addition to the coaching, Freidenberg claims on his resume to be the “founder and chairman” of the Ohio Tournament of Champions. He also described himself as the “media liason (sic) ” for the Ohio State High School Championships.
There does not appear to be an organization by that name, but there is an Ohio High School Athletic Association.
“I can confirm that Bart has assisted the media in various capacities at our state wrestling tournament,” OHSAA spokesman Tim Stried confirmed in an email. “He has helped with records, photography and obtaining bios of state tournament qualifiers.”