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Football camp hazing incidents not uncommon

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

By Milan Simonich, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

What could have been a championship season ended the afternoon a half-dozen football players grabbed a nude teammate as he stepped out of the shower. They taped him to a towel rack, white adhesive crisscrossing his genitals and backside.

Then cohorts pushed the victim's homecoming date into the locker room in hopes that she would see him in his state of humiliation.

Afterward, the team tried to keep things quiet, but word of what happened leaked out. A flurry of investigations led the school superintendent to cancel the rest of the season, knocking Sky View High School of Smithfield, Utah, out of the state playoffs.

The case is 9 years old but it's similar in many respects to one that involving a football player Central Catholic High School in Oakland, prompting administrators and Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese officials this week to pull the team out of the regional playoffs.

Parents lost a bid yesterday to overturn the decision in court.

Dozens of hazing cases involving scholastic athletes make news each year. Perhaps hundreds of others go undetected or are covered up by perpetrators and victims alike.

Hank Nuwer, a journalism professor at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis who has taught and lectured on hazing in schools, said the Central Catholic case is the latest of at least 40 similar attacks that he has heard of since the late 1980s.

All involved either touching of another person's buttocks or "some sort of sexual simulation, which is pretty graphic."

At Pentucket Regional High School in West Newbury, Mass., last year, marauding upperclassmen attacked team newcomers in their bunks at an off-campus football camp.

Victims were "tea bagged." That means they were held down as an attacker dragged or slapped his testicles across their face.

Tea bagging is what authorities say happened at Central Catholic's summer camp as well.

Nuwer called it "kind of common knowledge" in many schools that athletic teams engage in "tea bagging" at their summer camps. "It becomes part of the legend, to scare younger players," he said.

Teenage boys do not necessarily see tea-bagging or other hazing with sexual overtones as sex acts, Nuwer said.

"If they're all doing this, it's the opposite of something gay or perverse," he said. "It's something within the group, a sort of outlaw spirit that pulls people together and gives them this shared legend they can talk about."

Norman J. Pollard, an Alfred University professor who has co-authored two studies on hazing, found that the practice is common not only among high school athletes, but also in every activity from cheerleading to church groups. Hazing happens to boys and girls and to students of any age.

"The males tend to use more dangerous and potentially violent acts of hazing, whereas females tend to use humiliation and degradation," Pollard said. "But it is seemingly more and more common, or at least people are coming out into the open about it more frequently."

Many of the episodes are violent and degrading.

Two years ago, Dan Reda, a newcomer to the football team at Moon Area High School, suffered a concussion when he was attacked by upperclassmen in a gauntlet called "the A line" at an off-campus football camp. Somebody struck Reda in the head with a hard object -- possibly an alarm clock -- wrapped in a sock.

Moon administrators suspended the guilty players for at least one game. They also barred the team from training off campus again.

In Anne Arundel County, Md., this fall, six North County High School football players were suspended from school in the assault of a boy at a football camp.

Details of that case were cloaked in secrecy, something that often happens in hazing investigations.

For instance, "several" football players were suspended for a game or games two years ago at Mars Area High School. The details, though, were guarded by school administrators and never released to the public.

"I know we had an incident, but I can't remember if it involved horsing around or hazing," Mars Superintendent William Pettigrew said yesterday.

While saying they are appalled by hazing, parents nonetheless complain that punishments often do not fit the crime.

In the Sky View case, three parents sued to keep the football season going, saying it was wrong to punish the whole team for the misconduct of a few. Like the Central Catholic parents, they lost in court.

The Utah hazing victim, Brian Seamons, transferred to another high school. He and his parents later sued Sky View, collecting $250,000 in damages.

To this day, what happened to Seamons during his junior year of high school divides the town.

"The school was just as much a victim as Brian Seamons," said Jan Hall, now Sky View's athletic director and one of those who sued to try to keep the team playing. "What happened was wrong, but that season was my son's only chance at the state playoffs."

Hall still maintains that Seamons was not a victim of hazing or a sexual assault. Rather, he called what happened "a stupid prank," similar to those that happen every year in locker rooms across the country.

To curb hazing, schools should take action on several fronts, Nuwer said.

First, they should adopt a non-hazing policy and make it clear that the rule will be enforced.

Schools also should help to create positive rituals for students that will foster camaraderie and team spirit, Nuwer said.

Coaches and school administrators should insist on talking to players who graduate or quit unexpectedly and to parents and booster groups. This can keep adults informed about any hazing or the potential for it to occur.

For a victim, hazing can be a haunting experience for months or years afterward.

Matt Weymouth, a 15-year-old assaulted at Pentucket Regional in Massachusetts school, said he knows that's true.

Last year he accused five fellow football players of holding him down and rubbing their testicles on his face, then trying to force a banana into his rectum.

He told The Boston Globe that only his horrified cries stopped his attackers. "The last thing they said was, 'If you tell coach, we'll beat the crap out of you.'"

Weymouth told reporters this year that he is emotionally wrecked because of the hazing. He left the school on Dec. 1, then attended a different school for three weeks before dropping out altogether.

He said he could not go to school with his assailants, and then he could not concentrate on his studies.

Post-Gazette staff writers Lori Shontz and Cindi Lash contributed to this story.

Milan Simonich can be reached at msimonich@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1956.

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