Mansfield family sues over injury to youth football player

The parents of a 12-year-old football player from Mansfield have sued the North Texas Youth Football Association, alleging that an assistant coach severely injured their son's leg during a drill.

The lawsuit says Nicholas Banschbach was negligent when, in November 2008, he swung a tackling dummy toward Ryan Spence's legs during a drill intended to teach players how to avoid illegal blocks.

The dummy hit Ryan's left leg, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and other cartilage and ligaments in his knee, the lawsuit states.

The boy, who was 10 at the time, has undergone two surgeries, the family's lawyer says. He was cleared to participate in athletics again about a month ago, said Patrick Wigle, a Dallas attorney representing the Spences.

"The type of moves that the drill was designed at replicating are illegal because of the propensity of causing injury," Wigle said. "It's totally unorthodox, unnecessary and unreasonably dangerous to run that type of drill with children this age."

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Tarrant County, also names as defendants William Sibley, the team's head coach, and the Mansfield Peewee Football Association, which is an affiliate of the North Texas Youth Football Association.

The family is seeking more than $50,000.

Todd Mashaw, president of the North Texas Youth Football Association, said he had not seen the lawsuit as of Thursday morning but was aware of the incident. He said the coaches involved have disputed the allegations.

"The way I look at everything, there's the coaches' side of the story, the parents' side of the story, and the truth is somewhere in the middle," Mashaw said.

Banschbach, Sibley and Richard Watts, president of the Mansfield Peewee Football Association, did not respond to messages seeking comment Thursday.

According to the lawsuit, the injury occurred Nov. 21, 2008, during a practice for the Mansfield Bengals at Brooks Wester Middle School.

The lawsuit alleges that Banschbach, under Sibley's supervision, was conducting a "highly unconventional drill" to teach players how to avoid being clipped below the waist and hit with illegal low blocks, including chop blocks. A chop block is an illegal maneuver that involves two players striking an opponent above and below the waist at the same time.

The maneuvers are illegal at all levels of football because of the risk of injury, the lawsuit states.

Wigle said Ryan's father, David Spence, had been working with other players on another part of the field when his son, the team's quarterback, was hurt.

"He heard it happen. He heard a kid screaming, and he turned around and, to his horror, found out it was his child," Wigle said.

Wigle said the injury, and subsequent surgeries, left Ryan on crutches for about two months. He said the North Texas Youth Football Association's insurance company denied a claim filed by the family.

The lawsuit alleges that Sibley and both football associations failed to properly supervise and train their staff and failed to have adequate policies and procedures in place to dictate appropriate drills.

"In Texas, we love football, and it's important to be competitive, but it's not important to be competitive at the risk of injury to the children," Wigle said.

Mashaw said groups that join the North Texas Youth Football Association must follow a single set of rules for playing the game.

"It's very specific in our rule books: Coaches cannot do any deliberate abuse of a child -- go hit them or push them down," Mashaw said. He said he does not believe the assistant coach intentionally harmed Ryan.

Mashaw said rules for what drills can be conducted are determined by individual associations such as the Mansfield Peewee Football Association.

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655