Multiple news reports are coming in from Oakland City, Indiana, saying the football team at Wood Memorial High School is under investigation for hazing and, because only 11 players aren’t under investigation, had to forfeit its first two games against Princeton and Tecumseh.
According to Lucas Whitten of the Princeton Daily Clarion, Oakland City police chief Alec Hensley said the police have also begun an investigation into the hazing allegations. He said it could take several weeks to complete all the interviews and noted that Indiana State Police have been brought in to assist with the investigation.
According to 14-News, the allegations against the football program span more than two school years. “From what we understand, it was hazing that went a little too far,” Chief Hensley said. “It’s not just hazing, though. There is a game that they play called ‘What’s the Odds?’ It seems that’s where most of this stemmed from.” That’s a game like truth or dare, but it only includes the “dare” option.
Other hazing incidents in recent years have led to forfeiture of games as well:
- Sayreville War Memorial (N.J.) H.S. football team
- Central Bucks (Pa.) School District
- Ooltewah (Tenn.) H.S. basketball team
All of the above hazing incidents ended with coaches losing their jobs and possibly facing criminal charges. When it goes too far, bullying can lead to death.
I can’t speculate about the effect the incidents at Wood Memorial will have on the coaches or other teachers at the school or on the bullies, but I can say it’s likely to have a damaging effect on the players who were hazed, given the alleged acts committed.
The true incidence of hazing in youth sports is unknown because victims don’t report the mistreatment or fail to recognize it as hazing, according to a review of scientific literature on the subject by a team of Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) researchers.
One study revealed that of the 47 percent of student athletes who had been hazed, only 8 percent labeled the behavior as hazing. Another study found that college students perceived hazing as having more positive benefits than negative effects.
However, a third study cited in the review noted that 71 percent of students who had been hazed reported negative consequences ranging from physical to psychological issues.
“The numbers are striking,” said Alex Diamond, D.O., MPH. “Very few — if they report it at all — will identify it as hazing. Then if you ask what actually happened to them or for them to describe the events, overwhelmingly, the description turns out to be hazing. We need to educate athletes to understand what hazing is versus what positive team building is.”
—Press release from Vanderbilt University referencing Alex B Diamond, S Todd Callahan, Kelly F Chain, Gary S Solomon. Qualitative review of hazing in collegiate and school sports: consequences from a lack of culture, knowledge and responsiveness. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2016; 50(3): 149 (DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2015-095603)
“The administration, faculty, and staff [at Wood Memorial] are committed to provide an environment that is conducive to learning without the disruption of unacceptable behavior,” the Evansville Courier & Press quoted East Gibson School Corp Superintendent Mike Brewster as saying in the statement. “The East Gibson School Corp has great students, who deserve the best each day. We are determined to fulfill that commitment.”
As we all know, every school district has “great students.” They also all have some bad ones. What administrators and teachers need to do is keep the bad ones from causing such great harm to the great ones, which has failed to happen at Wood Memorial in this one instance. So let’s not try to pull a “we have good people here” rug over this. Instead, we need to take care of those good people and punish the bad ones.
We also know school districts have neither the expertise nor the human resources to investigate crimes of this magnitude, as alleged. Thank goodness the superintendent can focus on fulfilling a commitment to students and let the police do what they do best.
I advise, given the scope of the problem, that Wood Memorial forfeit the remainder of the football season in honor of those who were harmed while taking part in a school-sponsored activity. There is no place for this, and the school needs to tell students who weren’t at fault that it still wants them to receive the best education possible under the circumstances.