DETROIT (AP) A high school football coach accused of hitting a 15-year-old player with a wooden paddle because the player received poor grades was suspended yesterday, a school spokesman said.

Freshman Omi Judkins accused Detroit Murray-Wright coach and history teacher Joel Blankenship of hitting him and other players. Police and school officials are investigating the claims.

Officials at Murray-Wright did not return calls yesterday and Blankenship could not be reached at home.

“The policy is not to discuss personnel matters. This one is particularly sensitive, especially in light of the possible litigation involved,” Detroit Public Schools spokesman Stan Childress said. He added that Blankenship has been placed on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of the investigation.

Blankenship played football at Murray-Wright before receiving a football scholarship to the University in 1989. He told The Detroit News that his high school coach also paddled players.

“I told (family members) I”ve apologized for this from day one, but they think it”s best if I don”t say anything now,” he told the paper. ” You have no idea how painful this is to me.”

Blankenship became head football coach at Murray-Wright seven years ago.

Judkins, a 6-foot-3, 308-pound center who started every game for the junior varsity squad, said he and other players were called to bring their report cards to Blankenship”s office after school on Jan. 22. They usually had weight training for two hours after school every day.

Blankenship separated the report cards into “good” and “bad” piles, Judkins said. Players were told they would get three smacks for each D they received and five for each F. A school security guard was in the room while Blankenship doled out the whacks with a thick, wooden, 26-inch-long paddle, Judkins said.

He said he was supposed to get 13 hits for receiving two Fs and three Ds, but that Blankenship stopped at 10. Judkins said he watched about 10 other players get the paddle, some as many as 12 or 13 times. He said the beatings lasted for about an hour and that players had to lean forward with their palms flat on a table.

“It was coming with a lot of force,” Judkins said yesterday. “He was lecturing us, telling us getting good grades would affect us in life.”

Judkins said it was known among teammates that Blankenship and other coaches used the paddle to try to teach players lessons and that he previously had received two hits for getting into an argument with another student.

Detroit Police Sgt. Gawaine Hughes of the department”s child abuse section said Judkin”s mother, LaTanya Pruett, filed a report on Jan. 24 but no interviews have been conducted yet.

“We”re right in the midst of the investigation,” Hughes said. “We will interview all witnesses until we get to the bottom and see exactly what happened.”

If there is sufficient proof of wrongdoing, the police could issue a warrant on child abuse charges, Hughes said.

Pruett said she insisted on seeing what was wrong when her son came home on Jan. 22 and couldn”t sit down. Judkins said he didn”t tell his mother at first because he didn”t want to be a “snitch.”

Pruett said she was horrified when she saw the red and black marks covering Judkin”s buttocks.

“I couldn”t believe this was going on in the school. How could you inflict that much pain on someone and not think it was damaging,” she said.

She said she took Judkins to Children”s Hospital of Michigan, where a doctor took notes and photos showing 11-by-7-inch bruises on the boy”s buttocks.

Pruett said she met with Blankenship and other school officials, who all apologized. But she says she hasn”t heard anything from them since.

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