A number of education and athletic associations have expressed support for Needham High School officials’ decision to suspend members of the school’s girls’ soccer team for allegedly hazing younger teammates, says the Boston Globe. The suspended students are accused of blindfolding freshmen on the team, leading them around on dog leashes, and smashing pies in their faces, according to a school official.
Although Needham Public Schools Superintendent Dan Gutekanst declined to provide details about the alleged “initiation ritual’’ of new players, he defended the actions taken against the students. “I would say that the high school principal has acted with fairness, humility, and accountability,’’ Gutekanst said in a telephone interview. Gutekanst confirmed that the team’s coach has been placed on paid administrative leave for the duration of the season, but he declined to comment on the number of students suspended, other than saying that there were more than two and that some were suspended for as long as five days. He added that none of the students, as far as he knows, were injured during the alleged hazing.
Among those supporting the school’s actions is Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. “These events have to be handled firmly and directly,’’ he said, adding, “It’s not just the students directly involved; it’s the whole culture of the school. Everyone is watching how the adults are going to respond, and if the adults don’t send a message with some degree of severity, it’s as if they’re condoning it.’’ Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, said, “The only thing I can say is that hazing is a form of bullying.” According to Paul Wetzel, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, schools have increasingly cracked down on hazing over the past decade. He also noted that his association runs a mandatory program for all first-year coaches and alerts them to the dangers of hazing.
The suspension of the girls before their state tournament game outraged parents so much that some asked a judge to allow their children to play in the matchup against Brockton. The judge refused, and the team lost 7-1. They played without their coach. A number of parents of players claim the incident has been misrepresented as hazing, when it was nothing more than an initiation ritual, and accuse school officials of overacting.
Police Chief Thomas Leary said his officers are investigating the hazing allegations. David Traub, a spokesman for the Norfolk district attorney’s office, declined to say whether charges would be filed. The state’s 25-year-old anti-hazing law applies to secondary schools and carries a penalty of up to a year in prison and a $3,000 fine. The law defines hazing as “any conduct or method of initiation into any student organization, whether on public or private property, which willfully or recklessly endangers the physical or mental health of any student or other person.’’
Source: Boston Globe, 11/11/10, By David Abel and Erica Noonan
[Editor's Note: As Glenn Koocher pointed out, hazing is a form of bullying and, unfortunately, is often condoned and in some cases encouraged by coaches. In November 2003, the New York Times reported that the Bellmore-Merrick School Board (N.Y.) had decided not to renew the coaching contracts of Mepham High School’s five member football staff amidst the ongoing sex abuse investigation centering on the school's varsity football team. Three members of the team were accused of sexually abusing junior varsity players in a hazing rite at a preseason training camp in Pennsylvania. After initial allegations of the abuse surfaced, school district officials decided to cancel the season. The board implemented a new policy prohibiting school teams from attending sports camps and required district officials to review field trip guidelines and hold mandatory meetings among players and coaches to stress the district's no tolerance policy toward hazing. A summary of the article is available to COSA members at the first link below.
In 2006, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (CN, NY, VT) ruled that a high school athletic director had a valid cause of action against a New York school district for retaliation when it eliminated his position after he spoke publicly about a hazing incident involving members of the football team and the district’s handling of the incident. A summary of the opinion is available at the second link below.]