Ask Del Rio League sports commissioner Vern Brock about the scourge of hazing during his early coaching days and the retired La Serna High School athletic director chuckles about a once-consuming issue.
“Haircuts were the big deal when I was at St. Paul,” said Brock, an assistant coach under St. Paul legend Marijon Ancich in the mid-1960s. “We struggled to get kids to cut their hair. That was the way you stood out then.”
Brock was one of many former associates who defended Ancich during the St. Paul coach’s eight-day, school- imposed suspension while the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the high school jointly investigated hazing allegations involving the Swordsmen.
Ancich, along with all but one member of the St. Paul football coaching staff, was reinstated on Friday morning. But he and the other coaches still face the possibility of disciplinary action from the school, according to Principal Kate Aceves.
“Even with something as insignificant as haircuts, all it takes is for the kid to go home and for his parents to see his haircut and not like it,” Brock said. “All it takes is one complaint to ruin a coach’s career.”
Hazing is a viewed by some as a right of passage, a tradition carried out on high school and college campuses across the nation. But it also can go too far and become dangerous or even criminal. In some well-documented cases in recent years, criminal complaints and sexual assault charges have been handed out to those who participated in hazing rituals.
Current La Serna football coach Margarito Beltran said he doesn’t believe in hazing.
He does, however, believe in team-bonding.
In fact, his program runs a day’s worth of events on “Unity Night,” the last day of summer practice before the start of the dead period.
“After our passing league with La Habra, we basically kept the kids from 3 p.m. to 6a.m. the next day,” Beltran said. “They’re fed, they go swimming, bowling, have a rookie show and do other team-building activities and then we select captains.
“At the end, around 2 to 3 in the morning, we play dodge ball in the large gym and see which kids start nodding off.”
Beltran has been with La Serna for 11 years. He said he modified some traditions when he took over as head coach four years ago.
“We used to camp on the field but then we had girls infiltrating the camp,” Beltran said. “And that was getting away from our main theme of bonding.”
California High coach Jim Arnold said he’s never understood even mild or playful types of hazing.
“I know there’s a lot of the old guard that believe in hazing, but I don’t,” Arnold said. “Making kids do things against their will is never tolerable.
“I was one of those kids that had to get his hair cut and I hated it. I didn’t see how that brought me closer to the team.”
When Arnold arrived at California four years ago, he said he immediately warned his players about hazing.
“You just don’t want to give kids the opportunity to go out and hurt themselves,” Arnold said. “That’s the problem with hazing, it’s done by kids.”
Arnold added that true growth and bonding happen between the hash marks.
“You bond on the field by practicing and playing football,” Arnold said. “These kids naturally do it. It’s only the coaches that think (hazing) is important to winning.”
Cantwell Sacred Heart coach Kim Taylor said he was surprised to hear of the St. Paul suspensions.
“It was unfortunate that it happened at St. Paul to a great guy,” Taylor said. “But I want to say that hazing is something that’s not prevalent in all Catholic schools.”
Like Arnold, Taylor doesn’t condone hazing because he feels it’s just too easy for teenagers to let it get out of hand.
“You have players that want to go beyond tradition and pranks,” Taylor said. “One person says let’s do it and someone else takes it to another level.”
Taylor also doesn’t have fond memories of hazing.
The Crenshaw High alumnus recalled his displeasure as a sophomore when he had to assist then senior running back Wendell Tyler, who later starred at UCLA and with the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers.
“I was a lower-level guy, so I had to carry his shoulder pads from downstairs to the upper level or get him a soda or water,” Taylor said.
“We didn’t have hazing like spanking or anything like that but I wouldn’t say I liked what we had either.”
So, the Cardinals coach has tailored a different method to build camaraderie.
“We call them team-builders,” Taylor said. “We go bowling, we have barbecues and we have picnics where parents from the different levels can meet.
“We even had a carwash. That’s how you build team bonds, by getting guys to work together, not by punishing each other.”