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Hazing News

Maine softball player reflects on her punishment

By Josh Zywien/jzywien@cnc.com
Amesbury News
Thu Aug 23, 2007, 11:47 AM EDT
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Amesbury, Mass. –
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It may be an unjust rule, but it’s one the NCAA and the University of Maine appear ready to stand by.

Former Amesbury High School superstar Ashley Waters, who has played on scholarship for the Black Bears softball team the last two springs, will be suspended for two games next season and stripped of her captaincy after the school and the NCAA discovered pictures of Waters and teammates being hazed in 2006.

Yes, that’s being hazed, not doing the hazing.

But now Waters and teammates Courtney Gingrich and Jenna Balent will pay the price. Balent and Waters will serve two game suspensions while Gingrich will be suspended for 10 games.

“These are severe penalties which are appropriate given the serious nature of the offenses,” said Blake James, UMaine’s athletic director, in a statement on the school’s Web site. “Hazing runs contrary to everything we stand for as a university and as an athletic department. It breaks down the foundations that support our teams, and it places individuals in difficult, sometimes dangerous situations. The message here is clear: we will not tolerate this kind of behavior.”

But Waters, who sent a letter to the Amesbury News this week, doesn’t believe the punishment fits the crime, if one was committed at all.

She may have a point. After all, as part of a 2006 “rookie party,” she was the one being hazed.

“I felt obligated by tradition to be there and bonding and unity of the team seemed important at the time,” Waters wrote in her letter. “I am now considered guilty of hazing because I did not leave the party or tell someone of authority about it. I would or could never have done that. I keep asking myself, if a crime was committed against me, am I guilty of that crime if I do not report it?”
Apparently so, according to the NCAA’s hazing guidelines.

The governing body of college athletics and the University of Maine consider students compliant if they keep mum on acts considered to be hazing.

According to reports, Waters and her freshman teammates were forced to dress up in skimpy outfits, smear makeup on their faces, and drink alcohol, despite being underage. The photos, discovered by hazing watchdog ncaahazing.com, confirm those allegations. The Web site found the photos after one of the players posted them on the Internet.

The site then forwarded the photos to the school and the Bangor Daily News. After the newspaper published a story on July 21, the school launched a two-prong investigation, enlisting the advice of UMaine professor. Elizabeth Allan, a nationally recognized academic expert on hazing, the press release said.

The school’s investigation revealed that similar parties had occurred prior to the 2004, 2005, and 2007 seasons.

“I have never denied I had a few beers and acted ‘crazy,’” Waters wrote. “The party never crossed my mind again until this past July when I received a call that photos had been discovered on a website. At that time I was told that I was guilty of one thing, underage drinking! From that time until now the accusations have dramatically changed.”

Waters worries what this will do to her reputation, and rightly so. A Dean’s List student with a 3.7 GPA through her first two years of college, Waters has been a model student-athlete.

“My reputation has been “ripped apart,” a reputation I have long been proud of as an athlete as well as a person,” she wrote.

Still, as Waters and the other students have tried to defend themselves, the University of Maine hasn’t budged.

The entire softball team will be suspended for one week at the start of the 2008 season and will remain on probation until May 31, 2010. The team will also participate in 20 hours of community service and will undergo a mandatory anti-hazing and alcohol education program.

The school said in its release that Balent, Gingrich, and Waters also violated the general student conduct code, but because of privacy laws the school couldn’t disclose the penalties for those violations.

“We have high expectations with regard to student behavior at the University of Maine,” UMaine Dean of Students Robert Dana said. “This is a serious academic community where people must conduct themselves in ways that demonstrate both self-respect and an appreciation of the ways in which our actions affect those around us. Hazing is one of those behaviors that will not be tolerated under any circumstances.”
Waters is simply left to pick up the pieces.

“Although I am forever changed, I will move forward,” she said. “Hopefully I will remain on the Dean’s List, maintain my 3.7 GPA and follow my dreams.”

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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