Thursday, August 27, 2009
By JOHN MURPHY
FONTANA – An incident of hazing involving the football team at Fontana Miller High has led the school to discipline “10 to 15 players,” principal Heather Griggs said Thursday.
Griggs said that on Monday she was alerted by parents that underclassman players had been “initiated” to the program by means of “verbal and physical harassment,” according to a statement issued this week by the district superintendent.
Griggs held a meeting with parents, coaches and players on Thursday to educate the audience of about 300 on hazing and discuss the issue. California law defines hazing as any method of initiation into an organization or student body that is likely to cause serious bodily injury to a former, current or prospective student. Violators can be found guilty of a misdemeanor or felony, depending upon the victim’s injury.
One of the parents in attendance said his son had been suspended.
“I’m not going to talk about the discipline taken toward students, but we are taking this seriously and we are investigating,” Griggs said. “There was physical and verbal harassment. Kids will be kids, but we need to protect each other.”
Laura Berkeley, the mother of sophomore Dillon Berkeley, said her son received a contusion on his arm from being battered by upperclassmen. Dillon, who will miss this season for medical reasons unrelated to the hazing, was still participating in team activities, his mother said.
“They had the courtesy to let him remove his glasses, and then they hit and punched him,” she said. “He was curled up in a ball.”
Randy Berkeley said his son “wasn’t very upset.”
“I think he was proud of it,” he said, referring to the boy’s contusion. “But I think it went too far.”
Despite some squabbling by parents and occasional shouting over Griggs’ dialogue, Thursday’s meeting ended on conciliatory note. At the urging of Miller team doctor Darren Stewart, who has a son on the team, players approached Dillon and Laura Berkeley and apologized to him.
“You can’t play a game without the kids, and if we lose that kid (Berkeley), pretty soon you don’t have a team,” Stewart said. “I think the apologies of the kids were sincere, but I don’t approve of the discipline.”
Jeff Chambliss, who also has a son on the team, also didn’t agree with what he described as quick discipline given to some varsity players and questioned the lack of supervision by school personnel.
Griggs said Coach Jeff Strycula was unaware of the incidents, which were apparently spread out over two to three days and occurred in and around the school.
Hazing is nothing new in Inland sports. The most publicized case happened in 2000, when a Yucca Valley High football player was found not guilty by the courts and five other players settled for a lesser sexual battery charge by admitting involvement in an incident in which a younger player was penetrated by an object.
Lesser incidents also occurred in recent years at high schools in Hemet, Murrieta and Palm Desert.
Tracy Maxwell, the executive director of hazingprevention.org, said studies show 50 percent of college students playing sports or joining organizations are hazed, and 80 percent of high school athletes have suffered a similar fate.
“Athletes are bigger hazers because (young) athletes want to belong and earn their place on the team, so they’re more likely to go through something in order to fit in,” Maxwell said. “It’s social pressure.”
Maxwell said schools need to do a better job of educating students to the pitfalls of hazing and be more consistent in their disciplining.
“We’re always conscious of the potential (for hazing),” said Vista Murrieta athletic director Ray Moore, whose school had a hazing incident several years ago in its girls basketball program. “We used to think it was only in college fraternities, but it’s evolved and you really have to actively supervise any situation where kids are being bullied or hazed.
“There should be no initiations of any kind. Respect should be taught without intimidation.”