BILLINGS, Mont. -- An athletic trainer at a Montana high school sexually abused at least 18 student athletes decades ago under the guise of boosting their athletic performance, according to a lawsuit filed Friday.
The deception was aided by the team winning five state football championships in 16 years, the lawsuit states.
It alleges that James E. "Doc'' Jensen of Miles City performed nude massages and sexual acts on boys as part of what he called "The Program'' to enhance their strength and testosterone levels.
"This was a structured, sophisticated system of ritual sexual abuse,'' Miles City attorney Daniel Rice told The Billings Gazette, which first reported the lawsuit.
Hours after the lawsuit was filed, Jensen spoke to KULR-TV and the Gazette, acknowledging some of the allegations and offering an apology.
"I am sorry if I caused them any distress mentally or physically,'' Jensen told KULR. "I'm sorry I did what I did.''
However, he told the newspaper he was not guilty of some of the more serious allegations in the lawsuit.
Jensen did not return a phone message left by The Associated Press seeking comment.
Many incidents would not be subject to prosecution now due to the statute of limitations.
The case against Jensen -- who no longer works for Custer County High School -- the school district and unnamed school officials was filed on behalf of the 18 alleged victims and an estimated 80 others who are unknown.
Jensen, now 78, worked part-time as athletic trainer for the high school from the 1970s until about 1998.
A Billings law firm representing the school district said it was reviewing the lawsuit and did not respond to the specific allegations. Felt, Martin, Frazier & Weldon issued a statement saying the district is "extremely concerned'' about the "absolutely atrocious acts'' described in the complaint.
"We believe that even one child harmed on our watch is not acceptable and will do everything we can to get to the bottom of this situation,'' the statement said.
Jensen's grooming of the student athletes began with routine, state-mandated annual physical exams in which he touched the boys' genitals under the guise of a hernia check, the lawsuit states, and escalated as Jensen promised the boys a natural method for enhancing athletic performance.
He generated fictitious records charting the boys' progress and told athletes the program was producing such amazing results that they had to keep it a secret or people would think they were cheating, the lawsuit states.
The school football team advanced to the state championship game nine times between 1981 and 1996 and won five titles, according to Montana High School Association records.
If boys became reluctant to continue the 10-step program, Jensen would tell them their testosterone levels had stopped rising and questioned their commitment to their sport and their team, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit alleges the students complained to district coaches and staff about the program but it continued.
"At least one of the members of the football coaching staff made multiple inappropriate jokes and comments regarding 'special massages' from Jensen,'' the lawsuit states.
In the late 1990s, a concerned parent reported to the high school that Jensen was performing hernia checks without having any medical qualifications. Soon, Jensen was not working for the district, but It's not clear how his employment ended.
"The district did not attempt to contact any of the victims of 'the program' or their families regarding the alleged sexual abuse,'' the lawsuit states. "The district did not offer or recommend counseling services to the victims.''
The suit seeks yet-to-be-determined financial damages, an apology, school policy changes and training to prevent something similar from happening.
"What this case is about, to these guys, is making sure that no one else lives through the horror of what they have lived through, and have been dealing with for the last 20 to 30 years,'' Rice said. "This was systemic. There were -- as adults looking back on it -- red flags everywhere.''