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Not again. Another high school fails to call police in athletic hazing of a serious nature

Hazing case rocks Virden [Illinois] high school
Many believe suspensions weren’t punishment enough for football players
By BRUCE RUSHTON
STAFF WRITER

Published Thursday, September 27, 2007

VIRDEN – An apparent locker-room hazing incident last week has led to the suspension of four senior players on the Virden High School football team, but some parents want to know why law enforcement hasn’t gotten involved.

Three of the suspended students are returning to school today. It’s not clear when the fourth will. Head football coach Bruce Paisley has suspended three of the players from the team and thrown another off the squad permanently.

School officials won’t say just what happened in the boy’s locker room last Wednesday, when two freshman players were reportedly hazed by the four senior players while others watched.

But townsfolk are talking plenty. And more than 30 people showed up at Wednesday’s school board meeting to voice their anger and frustration at school officials and what they say is a tradition of hazing that has existed for many years on the high school football team.

Several in the crowd alleged that the hazing involved conduct of a sexual nature. They wanted to know why players were left unattended in the locker room. And they wanted to know why the district hasn’t called in police.

Scott Mayeda, the police chief in Virden, a community of 3,500 about 20 miles south of Springfield, confirmed that district officials had called him Friday and asked what criminal charges might be involved to help guide the district’s investigation of the matter. But police have not looked into what happened because no one has asked, Mayeda said.

School officials said procedures have been changed to help ensure that adults are present whenever students are in the locker room. District officials also said freshman football players no longer dress or undress when varsity players are present.

Asked directly by a parent to explain what happened, without using names, district officials outlined what punishments and other action they’ve taken but did not give an account of the incident.

Parents, including some whose sons play freshman football, said they were angry that they heard about it either through the rumor mill or their children. They said the district should have immediately notified them.

Sarah Fernandes has no son in the football program, but she does have a daughter in the fourth grade who told her what happened.

“I heard this from her,” Fernandes told the board. “It scared me and shocked me and infuriated me. I pray to God that what came out of my daughter’s mouth at the age of 9 is not what happened.”

Parents said a junior player put a stop to the incident. “He’s my captain next year; I’ll tell you that right now,” Paisley said.

Some parents said the suspended players showed up for Friday’s homecoming game and stood on the roof of a car right outside the school fence, contrary to district policy that says suspended students are not supposed to be within proximity of the school.

“Those good old boys on top of that car are expecting to come back to this school tomorrow and play football again, business as usual,” said Dennis Lovely, who said his grandson played football.

Parents also ask why three of the players have received lighter punishments than the fourth, who received a longer suspension from school and won’t be allowed to play football again. Several parents said all should be punished equally.

Asked later why the punishments differed, Graham said, “I guess it’s just the degree of the involvement.”

Paisley said he’ll speak with the three players due to return to school today.

“Those three boys will report to me personally,” he told the crowd. “I’ll lay the rule down.”

Lovely asked Paisley if he’d talked with members of past teams to see if hazing had occurred when they played at Virden.

Yes, Paisley answered.

Were you surprised by what you heard, Lovely asked.

Yes, the coach replied.

When audience members said other players had watched last week’s incident and done nothing, the coach said some had been pressed against walls and couldn’t move, but he acknowledged some of his players didn’t do the right thing. “There were people that I wish had stepped up and stopped it,” he said.

Parents also criticized the school for not addressing the issue with the entire student body.

“I don’t think the majority of the kids think this is a criminal act,” said Anita Echevarria, who has kids aged 15 and 8 in Virden public schools. “I think most of them think this is funny.”

School board president Stephen Furman said the district is considering bringing in a professional to address the issue with the entire school. But that wasn’t good enough for several parents.

Some pointed out that the district has a policy against hazing and a policy against sexual harassment. Many said the school should take stronger action against the students involved. At least one person disagreed.

“My son was involved in the incident,” said a woman who told the board that the same sort of hazing has happened in previous years. “Is it fair to make those four suffer?”

More than four should pay the price, considering the seriousness of the matter and the fact that just one student, a junior, is being credited for stepping in and ending the conduct, Echevarria said.

“There should be no more football,” she said. “Everybody else was standing around watching.”

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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