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Trashing: Minnesota video now helping high school kids nationwide

LInk and excerpt–

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN As a ninth-grade football player at Lourdes High School, Kevin Lund remembers having to carry some of the varsity players’ equipment back to school from practice.”It didn’t create any risk or harm to me,” the Olmsted District judge said recently, thinking back to those days. “But I didn’t feel like I had a choice either.”

At the time, he said, it just sort of seemed like a tradition.

Years later, as a parent, he remembers cross-country teammates coming to their house at 4:30 a.m. and taking his oldest son to meet up with the rest of the team at a local restaurant.

In some circles, that is called trashing, and acceptable to many as innocent fun.

In today’s world, both types of conduct are considered a form of hazing, prohibited by state law and school district policy. The Rochester School District adopted its policy on June 21, 2005.

Hazing is defined as committing an act against a student or coercing a student into committing an act that creates a substantial risk of harm to a person in order for the student to be initiated into or affiliated with a student organization.

Rochester is not the only area school district that has dealt with hazing issues.

• Last fall, the Byron School District investigated reports of hazing by players of an athletic team.

• In Austin, a 17-year-old boy was charged in juvenile court this spring with felony aiding and abetting in indecent exposure and gross misdemeanor fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly ‘tea-bagging” a fellow hockey player last October. A 16-year-old boy said he was grabbed from behind and wrestled to the floor, then held so he couldn’t get up. Another teen allegedly approached him, naked, and squatted down over his face. The victim told police maybe 10 people were in the room when it happened, that some had laughed. None came to his aid. He said days later that other kids in school who didn’t know him came up to him and laughingly asked if he had been “tea bagged,” according to the complaint. That case remains open.

• Members of the Mayo High School girls soccer team in the fall of 2000 members performed an “initiation” of Molly Bahr. During the course of the incident, her hand was injured by a hedge trimmer held by a fellow student, and Bahr and her parents later filed a civil action. According to court documents, the initiation event, referred to as trashing, was a tradition. In it, the older girls wake up the younger girls in the middle of the night, take them to public places and throw foul-smelling liquids on them and/or make them wear “funny clothes.”

‘Trashing’ goes awry

Being trashed was considered a status symbol and a rite of passage, the documents say. Traditionally, the girls ask the parents for permission to “trash” the player. And, court documents say, they had in this case, which made them feel like they didn’t do anything wrong.

Before the incident involving Bahr, there is no evidence that power equipment was ever used in a trashing, said Judge Jodi Williamson in a memorandum attached to an order dismissing seven students named as third-party defendants from the civil action.

The initial lawsuit was brought by Bahr and her parents against the girl who carried the hedge trimmer to her house. That girl then brought third party claims against the other girls who were present for the initiation.

The initial lawsuit ended up being settled out of court before trial.

Williamson said Bahr testified she was hoping to be trashed during that fall and had been given a “friendly warning” that it would happen soon.

Before the trashings began in the early morning hours of Oct. 11, 2000, the older teammates met at the home of one of the girls. A video camera was used to film the events and the girl got her father’s hedge trimmer from the garage. She intended to use it in combination with a hockey mask as part of a costume for the trashing event to look like the “Jason” character from the movies.

The girl said in her deposition that she intended to turn on the hedge trimmer in order to scare the younger girls, but there was no intent to cause harm.

They went to Bahr’s home and the door was unlocked. The judge said the videotape of the event shows the group arriving at the home and going to Molly’s bedroom. One girl was wearing a hockey mask and holding the hedge trimmer. They entered the room and pulled the covers off of Molly. She was startled and either fell or was pushed to the floor near the bed. The videotape shows the girl with the trimmer standing in front of Molly as she is seated on the floor; Molly reaches out her arm toward the hedge trimmer and touches the blade with her hand, possibly to move it away from her, the judge notes.

The hedge trimmer started. The pinky finger of Molly’s right hand was cut, resulting in tendon and nerve damage that necessitated multiple surgeries. She lost four weeks of school.

Charges from ‘paddling’ initiation

In the fall of 2002 reports started surfacing about students being injured after being “paddled” with boards by upperclassmen. One Century High School student told of being hit eight times by two students using a two-by-four. He was hit on the buttocks while lying over a picnic table.

Some victims needed medical attention.

Gretchen O’Neil, a police liaison officer at Century, investigated. In the end, authorities identified 16 victims. Eleven people were charged; nine were juveniles and information about those cases is confidential under state law.

Two were charged in adult court with fifth-degree assault and disorderly conduct, misdemeanors. Another two 16-year-olds were later charged in juvenile court with felony tampering with a witness for harassing two of the hazing victims. All of the cases were resolved through plea agreements.

The two teens charged in adult court were expelled from school for a year.

Education about hazing

“Hazing has gotten more violent over time, and it can perpetuate itself,” said O’Neil, who has been a police officer for 11 years. When underclassmen who have been hazed become upper classmen, they believe it is their turn to do the hazing, she said.

O’Neil saw the need for more education on hazing, leading to development of the video now used in school districts across the state.

“Hazing: The Painful Truth” is required viewing for all high school students signing up for athletic programs in Rochester. Students also must sign documents promising not to participate in any form of hazing.

In putting together the script, O’Neil said she wanted to keep it true to life, short and to the point. She worked with MLT Group, a local marketing firm headed by long-time Rochester resident Mike Pruett.

The video features Century students in a mock situation where some students are trying to get another to join in a hazing. It was filmed at the high school.

O’Neil said she made a point of talking to the victims of the 2002 hazing incidents.

“The victims didn’t want to talk about what happened, but what can be done to make changes,” she said. “I really listened to the victims and wanted to honor their feelings.”

Making teams weaker

The video also includes comments from school athletic officials and a local athlete, Shjon Podein, who went on to play in the National Hockey League.

He tells students that many people see hazing as being good for a team. But he says, “you have to be able to trust teammates and hazing makes teams weaker.”

The video follows students charged through the criminal justice system and into the courtroom at the time of sentencing. Lund tells the student being sentenced that there truly is no excuse for his behavior.

“It’s dangerous, humiliating and above all, stupid,” he says.

Pruett and MLT’s director of operations Ted St. Mane say they are in the process of marketing the video nationwide.

This one is geared to high school athletics. St. Mane said the company is looking at developing videos aimed at female students and college-age audiences.

Required viewing

Mark Kuisle, athletic coordinator at Century and board member of the Minnesota State High School Athletic League, said the video will be required viewing for all students at Century, not just those going into athletic programs. “(Hazing) happens in all school affiliated groups. It could be formal or informal, on or off campus,” he said.

The video has been purchased by the high school league and now is an educational tool for 500-plus schools. What makes the video a good tool, he said, is it shows kids dealing with a life situation.

He thinks hazing is still happening in local schools, but he is optimistic things are changing.

More than just kids being kids

Kuisle acknowledges that there are those parents who say this is just kids being kids and indirectly condone the behavior.

“We are trying to send a message it is not right to treat someone that way. When you have blinders on and say it is just kids being kids, someone could get seriously hurt,” he said.

O’Neil said that before the video, her feeling was people were afraid to talk about hazing.

“We have to continue to come at parents and kids with information in a positive setting. We need to work together so kids feel safe and are welcomed into a group or organization without putting themselves in harms way,” he said.

Lund said the paddling incidents of five years ago are the “most glaring” examples of what could go wrong.

“It’s assaultive,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any room for that in our society and in our community.”

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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