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Whitman High School swimming: positive alternative

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Every Friday night, a group of Whitman High School swim and dive team members gathers at a friend’s house. Sometimes they play video games, but most nights they eat and watch a movie. It is something the team has been doing for almost 10 years. “When I came to Whitman they were already doing it,” said Geoff Schaefer, now in his ninth season as head coach. “It was definitely a tradition I wanted to continue.”

Schaefer, who said hazing was more the norm in high school when he swam, didn’t want that for his team. “Everyone feels included. We want everyone to be a part of the team,” said Schaefer. That can be difficult when a team is comprised of 70 athletes who are not only competing against each other, but generally spend little time together. With pool time at a premium, the Whitman team only practices twice a week. A majority of the swimmers practice every day, but with club teams. Recognizing the intensity of those workouts, Schaefer lets swimmers miss his practice in lieu of the club practices. Some members of the team may go weeks without practicing with the Whitman team.

That makes the Friday night gatherings all the more important. Without them, the only time the team is together is on the pool deck at meets. Last Friday, a Viking helmet (the team’s mascot) and a box greeted the team at the house of Stephen Rodan, 16, a junior. The box was for donations to cover the cost of dinner from California Tortilla, a team favorite.

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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