Finnigan Fields is at the heart of Case Western Reserve University's campus, a bucolic picture of order surrounded by a schizophrenic neighborhood. The Church of the Covenant's four Gothic spires are visible from the facility, a reminder of the world-class museums and cultural institutions located nearby. Across from Finnigan Fields, on Wade Park Avenue, a boarded-up house sits vacant, a clue to the impoverished neighborhoods and drug trade that can also be found nearby. And across East 115th Street is a collection of squat brick dormitories that house much of the CWRU student body, a varied group of students who choose to live for four years in a neighborhood where Cleveland's best and worst intersect.
Finnigan Fields includes a running track where two CWRU students quite literally intersected last November in an incident that is proving to be as convoluted as all the disparate elements surrounding the athletic facility.
Open to all CWRU students and faculty, the track is a 400-meter ribbon of reddish foam encircling a field of deep green grass. Eight lanes, each of equal width, demarcate where a runner can and cannot stray. Blue-and-white signs posted at all the entrances remind that, among other things, joggers are to use lanes five through eight--the outside lanes.
The track serves as both home and practice field for the CWRU track-and-field team, of which senior Randy Fesh is a co-captain. A senior majoring in business management and political science, Fesh throws the javelin for the Spartans and apparently threw something else last November 18. His target was a forty-year-old CWRU student, Kathryn Klemenchich, who is now threatening to file suit against the university and Fesh because of the still-unclear altercation.
What is clear is this: Around 7 p.m. on a Wednesday, both Fesh and Klemenchich were running on the unlit track. Fesh was running in the standard counterclockwise direction, while Klemenchich, an English major, was jogging in a clockwise direction. Both were running in the inside lanes, and they brushed against each other and exchanged words the first three times they passed.
"I told her she was running the wrong way," recalls Fesh. "And she didn't move."
According to Klemenchich, it was Fesh who was guilty of boorish behavior. She told University Circle police that he yelled, "Are you stupid? Do you know track etiquette?"
Klemenchich did not respond. The next time they passed, there was more contact--this time much harder. Klemenchich said she "felt a sharp blow to the left side of her head." She staggered off the track to call police.
Fesh says the two simply ran into one another accidentally.
"I called for her to move, and she didn't move. I couldn't get around her, and we ran into each other," Fesh says. "She left and had a bruise, and then she claimed she was assaulted."
Photos show Klemenchich did receive a nasty bruise, extending from her ear to her jaw, that police concluded was inflicted by a fist or an elbow. Fesh, 22, was charged with misdemeanor assault in Cleveland Municipal Court and pleaded no contest earlier this year. "The only reason I pleaded no contest was because for me it would be cheaper, and it would be wiped off my record because it was my first offense," Fesh says.
He was sentenced to 180 days in jail, all of which was suspended on the condition he attend aggression management classes. He was placed on probation for one year.
Fesh was also placed on probation at CWRU, but in an unusual move was allowed to remain on the track team. That seems a direct violation of student handbook guidelines, which state: "Students on disciplinary probation are generally ineligible to represent the University in intercollegiate activities . . ." A CWRU spokesman refused to comment on Fesh's disciplinary hearing, characterizing it as a private affair between the student and the school.
An open-and-shut case of one student assaulting another student, right? Well, not quite. The case has since taken a curious twist.
Klemenchich is preparing a lawsuit against both Fesh and the university because of the psychological trauma she claims resulted from the altercation. Klemenchich says she now suffers a "fear of athletes, and walking around Case I now realize how many of them there are." So many, Klemenchich says, that she is withdrawing from the school.
CWRU has been called many things in its history, but never a haven for jocks.
Klemenchich has gone so far as to request representation from Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ), a liberal Washington-based group known for successfully arguing that the NCAA's freshman athletic eligibility requirements were unfair to African Americans. TLPJ has also argued several cases on Title IX, designed to ensure gender equity in college athletics.
Klemenchich's letter to TLPJ--which declined to take her case--raises eyebrows for several reasons. First, Klemenchich claims that Fesh hit her with a javelin, even though she made no mention of a javelin when she reported the incident to University Circle police. Klemenchich also wrote: "I would like to pursue damages against the university for unsafe conditions on Finnegan [sic] Fields. Although the Field was open, there was no light provided, making it unsafe." It is true that there are no lights. But signs posted around the track clearly state that it closes at dusk.
How might Klemenchich be fairly compensated for her ordeal? She offers a helpful suggestion in her letter, after noting she has a scholarship that already covers 75 percent of her tuition. "I would be willing to come to an agreement with the university on not publicizing my assault," she wrote, "in exchange for four years of free tuition after my scholarship runs out."
In a brief interview, Klemenchich says she no longer wishes to discuss the case, lest she jeopardize civil suits that have not yet been filed. "I have to make sure I get the maximum amount of damages," she says.
As for Fesh, he told the CWRU student newspaper in a personality profile last month that his favorite quote is: "Pretty women open my eyes, intelligent women open my mind, but only kind women open my heart." It now looks like a slow-jogging woman might force him to open his wallet.
Whatever the final legal outcome, Fesh and Klemenchich make the perfect '90s couple: a jock who whacks a woman who turns out to be lawsuit-happy, both running in circles, getting nowhere fast.
Mike Tobin may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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