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by Ken Fortenberry

LMS Wrestlers Are Accused of Sexual Hazing on School Bus After Match

Was it just “horseplay” among teen boys or something much worse?
Was it just “inappropriate touching” or was it a criminal act deserving of prosecution?
That’s what authorities and parents are still trying to figure out after three members of the East Lincoln Middle School wrestling team were suspended from school and kicked off the team following a sexual hazing incident that occurred on a bus while the team was traveling from a match in Rutherford County.
Two of the students are facing misdemeanor assault charges as a result of the incident that was investigated by school resource officer Robert Milton. (Their names are not made public because they are juveniles).
Here’s what happened:
The middle school team traveled to Chase Middle School in Rutherford County on Thursday, Dec. 6 for a wrestling match. The bus was driven by one of the coaches, and another coach also was aboard.
After the match, which the team lost, the bus was traveling back to Lincoln County and according to several accounts the boys were a bit noisy and rowdy, which is not unusual for traveling middle school athletes.
However, the rowdiness and horseplay turned ugly when two eighth grade wrestlers reportedly yanked down the pants of several younger wrestlers and began harassing them, physically and verbally.
“They went too far and kept carrying it on,” said Milton.
One of the eighth graders supposedly forced their faces into his crotch, grabbed their private parts, and also simulated a sexual act on them while using foul language.
Two other students reportedly stood by, providing a shield so the coaches up front in the bus couldn’t’ see.
Five or six students were reportedly assaulted and harassed by the older wrestlers.
No one said anything after the bus returned to school, but one student told his parent on the way home about what occurred on the bus, and she immediately turned around and went back to the campus.
Most everyone was gone by that time except for the coaches, and the parent told them what her son had just related to her. The stunned coaches informed principal Marty Helton about 9:15 that evening, and the parent notified the Sheriff’s Office which reportedly told her that since it was a school matter it should first be addressed by the school resource officer.
The following morning the parent went to the school and gave authorities the names of the students known to have been involved in the incident. Principal Helton said school officials talked to the students, their parents, and then asked them to make written statements.
“They all wrote statements of what they observed or what happened to them or who was doing what,” said Helton.
The case was turned over to school resource officer Milton that same morning, and he began an investigation that included taking statements from team members last Monday, Dec. 10.
Lincoln County School Superintendent J. David Martin, called the incident “inappropriate horseplay on the bus,” and confirmed that the boys who attacked the other students were suspended and removed from the team for “unsportsmanlike conduct.”
Martin said that since there was no “skin-to-skin” contact, it was his understanding that it was not a sexual assault in the legal sense of the term.
“There was some inappropriate touching. . . and I’m not condoning this,” he said. “The behavior was out of context.”
Principal Helton would not say what action, if any, would be taken against the coaches.
“I have talked to them and I have addressed this on a one-on-one level,” she said.
The coaches are well respected by parents, students and faculty at the school, and were not aware of what was happening on the bus, she said.
“The parents respect the coaches and the coaches are sick about this,” she said.
One parent, however, says the coaches should have been more vigilant and says the boys who are accused of harassing the other wrestlers have been a behavior problem in the past.
“This trouble should have been cut off the team early on,” the parent, who asked to remain anonymous, said.
The parent also expressed concern about retribution once the suspended students return to school, especially since one of them reportedly threatened a team member for talking to authorities.
Principal Helton said she not tolerate any retribution.
“I’ve advised our teachers to be more vigilant with monitoring students,” she said, noting that she has a plan in place to deal with the students when they return.
“They will sit with me and we will discuss their behaviors from here on….they will be told that I expect no comments from them or from anybody on their behalf (to the other students).”
Helton said the incident was “sad” and put a damper on a good season for the wrestling team. “You have so many good things that go on in our school…it’s just a bad situation that gives a negative perception about the school.”
In addition to the suspensions, Helton said “the parents of the students originally involved were appalled and assured me they will handle it at home.”


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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