RARITAN TOWNSHIP — Three strikes, and he’s out.

For the third time, a former baseball player at Hunterdon Central has been told that he was not a victim of bullying by coaches who he said targeted him for being a white, healthy heterosexual who was meek and polite.

The state commissioner of education last Thursday dismissed Robert Ehrhard’s appeal of decisions by an administrative law judge and the school district, which had found no bullying.

In every step of the investigation and appeals, district and state officials agreed that there were no facts to support that the alleged bullying was motivated by a “distinguishing characteristic,” and no proof that any bullying was motivated by Ehrhard being weak or meek.

Ehrhard has since graduated from both Hunterdon Central and college, but the appeal of his case has just concluded. It was one of just a handful of cases in which the accused bullies were not other students but adults and school employees.

Ehrhard’s 2013 complaint said that head coach Mike Raymond and assistant coach John Augusta, who are both white, targeted him and other players who were “healthy white heterosexual male student athletes” and who were intelligent and anxiety prone. He also said he was targeted for being the smallest team member and for being “quiet, mild mannered and respectful” — which his lawyer argued were “distinguishing characteristics” that the state’s anti-bullying law protects from harassment.

The complaint and appeal argued that the coaches had a pattern of harassing players dating back 10 years. The school’s investigation identified five bullying complaints against the coaches.

One student said he had “in-your-face” confrontations with Augusta. A second student said he was placed in a “timeout” for lack of hussle. A third student said he was ridiculed for attending to an injury. A fourth said he was lead on continuously to believe that he was one play away from becoming a starter.

Ehrhard’s appeal before an administrative law judge cited the following instances of bullying:

— Raymond and Augusta tossed baseballs into a pond and laughed at him to get it;
— Raymond “hassled” him over the way he threw a ball with an injured wrist;
— Raymond threatened to demote him to the junior varsity team;
— Both berated him for informing them that he would miss practice for a family vacation, and then guilted him into not taking the trip;
— Raymond encouraged the team to applaud when Ehrhard caught a ball during practice;
— Raymond forced him to carry catcher’s equipment;
— Raymond encouraged a teammate to keep his distance from Ehrhard.

The judge ruled in September that unfair playing time, favoritism, profanity and being too hard on a player — even if accepted as true — were not motivated by any of Ehrhard’s distinguishing characteristics.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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