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Hazed and Confined: Severna Park arrest

Saturday, June 16, 2007
Severna Park teen charged in hazing
Boy suffered cuts, bruises in paddling
By SCOTT DAUGHERTY, Staff Writer
Stealing a scene Thursday from “Dazed and Confused” where high school seniors torment the freshmen with homemade paddles, a 16-year-old Severna Park High School student is charged with hazing a rising freshman.
In an effort to curb the annual paddling of eighth-graders, Severna Park Middle School Principal Sharon Morell asked parents to ride school buses yesterday, the last day of school. Similar hazing incidents have occurred for at least the past nine years.

“I think it is going to take four years to break the tradition,” Ms. Morell said, believing that last year’s hazing victims will have to graduate from high school before the paddlings stop for good.

“I will keep every kid safe,” she said.

Rising freshmen give almost a shot-by-shot description of the 1993 stoner comedy’s hazing ritual when telling of their run-ins with the Severna Park High School upperclassmen. They say the juniors and seniors – armed with lacrosse sticks and pieces of wood – follow them home from school and ambush them at the bus stop or on the side of the road.

“They didn’t really do it hard or anything. It was just for fun,” said Tom Miller, who just graduated from the middle school. He said he was paddled last year when he got off the bus in Stewarts Landing. “It’s tradition.”

But police and school officials say any hazing is too much hazing.

Cpl. Mark Shawkey, county police spokesman, said a 16-year-old boy attacked a 14-year-old boy Thursday afternoon as he rode his bike on Riggs Avenue near Lenox Avenue. The victim told police a white car pulled up about 1:30 p.m. and an older teen got out and pushed him to the ground. The attacker then started beating him with a wooden baton – leaving minor cuts and bruises on his legs.

Cpl. Shawkey said the boy remembered part of the car’s license plate and the police officer assigned to Severna Park High School found it on the campus yesterday. He then identified the car’s owner and determined the attacker was actually just getting a ride in the vehicle at the time of the hazing.

Police said the 16-year-old suspect eventually admitted to assaulting the boy and was charged with hazing and with assault.

Cpl. Shawkey said hazings are rare in Anne Arundel County.

“In 11 years with the department this is the first incident of this nature I have ever heard of,” he said.

That said, four Severna Park High School students were charged with assault in 1998 after paddling at least two younger boys at a bus stop in Shipley’s Choice.

Middle school students also tell tales of upperclassmen throwing eggs and water balloons at them other years and even chasing them down in a pickup last year.

Eager to stop the hazing, Ms. Morell arranged for parents to ride on buses after school yesterday and to meet their children at their bus stops. She also asked the presidents of area home owners associations to mobilize their members and keep an eye out for mischief.

At Severna Park High School end-of-year announcements told students to leave the middle schoolers alone, Ms. Morell said.

“That took all of the fun out of it,” said one sixth grader as he got off the bus yesterday in Stewarts Landing – actually disappointed he didn’t get a chance to try out his running shoes. “It’s fun.”

Despite all of the warnings and precautions, some high school students still decided to test the water.

“They were following us,” said 14-year-old Ben Pershall, noting how some upperclassmen were miming a spanking motion as they sat in their car behind his school.

Ben’s mother, Anne Pershall, said she got the e-mail about the paddlings and decided to meet him and his brother at the bus stop.

“I don’t have a problem with the hazing really,” she said. “Tradition is tradition.”

Still, she said she wanted to be there just to make sure nothing got out of hand.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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