Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Crazy basketball buzzer-beater becomes all-time standard by which this high schooler’s life will be measured

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Myra Fleener: You know, a basketball hero around here is treated like a god, er, uh, how can he ever find out what he can really do? I don’t want this to be the high point of his life. I’ve seen them, the real sad ones. They sit around the rest of their lives talking about the glory days when they were seventeen years old.
Coach Norman Dale: You know, most people would kill… to be treated like a god, just for a few moments.

If I were Austin Groff, I would bore people until the end of my days about the few moments when I became a god by hitting this crazy, ass-backward, buzzer-beating shot during a recent high school holiday basketball tournament in Ohio.

(Hat tip: Off the Bench, nbcsports.com.)

Carmel basketball hazing victim: “I don’t smile as much as I used to”

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The attorney for the one of the targets of hazing last season by teammates of his Carmel (Ind.) High School basketball team — three former members of which are facing misdemeanor criminal charges, not counting the other one who has already pleaded guilty, as a result of hazing incidents — put his client out there, sort of, on Nov. 12 for a news conference.

I say sort of because the rules of the road laid down by attorney Robert Turner included no identifying the victim, no identifying his parents, and no pictures. Still, this is the first time the public has heard from any of the victims of one of the more notorious and talked-about cases of youth sports hazing in recent memory. However, Fox59 News in Indianapolis said the victim holding the news conference was the subject of the Indiana Department of Children and Family Services sexual assault report that blew the lid off the case.

Here are some quotes from the victim, as relayed by The Indianapolis Star:

How has your life changed? “I don’t smile as much as I used to. I don’t laugh and joke as much as I used to.”

Did you embellish your story to authorities? “I’m sure I would not make something like this up. I would not be in the situation I am here if I were making this up. I am very very serious about this.” (Fox59 also has him saying, “Why would I make something like this up?”)

Any advice to other victims for getting authorities to listen? “You just have to keep saying it and saying it.”

Also, the Star quoted the victim’s mother: “You’re supposed to feel safe to go to your leaders, your coaches and your teachers, and know something is going to be done. … They (students) are watching everything that is going on, and saying, ‘what’s the point.’ Look at what we’ve been through and still nothing’s happened.”

In particular, she’s talking about the plea deal for Scott Laskowski, who the previous week had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal recklessness. Laskowski, the son of former Indiana University player and longtime IU basketball announcer John Laskowski, was sentenced to slightly less than a year of probation and 40 hours of community service. He also was ordered to stay away from the victim.

Despite the Department of Children and Family Services report saying that the victim was anally penetrated with foreign objects, no felony or sexual assault charges have yet been made against Laskowski and the three others who have been indicted in north suburban Indianapolis’ Hamilton County on misdemeanor charges: Robert Kitzinger, Brandon Hoge and Oscar Faludon, all of whom, like Laskowski, graduated in spring 2010.

The charges are related to incidents in Carmel’s locker room. Fox59 reported on Nov. 5 that it’s expected the other players will follow Laskowski’s lead and take plea deals, which would certainly eliminate any chance Laskowski would have to testify in their cases. (Also, the judge handling their case on Oct. 27 was arrested for drunken driving while on vacation in North Carolina.)

I say there are no felony or sexual assault charges “yet” because the prosecutor in west suburban Hendricks County is still investigating a hazing incident on the back of a team bus heading back from a January game in Terre Haute. Laskowski, Kitzinger and Hoge were suspended from the team for that incident (Faludon was suspended for the locker-room incident). There’s no word on when those charges might come.

Not surprisingly, the victim’s family — and its lawyer, who is the former public safety director for the Indianapolis police — feel like everyone involved has not investigated or dealt with the hazing case sufficiently. Turner has threatened lawsuits, and said during the Nov. 12 news conference that he will file a complaint with the U.S. Attorney to investigate the Hamilton County prosecutor, the players’ attorneys and others he said have manipulated witnesses. So far, these only have been threats.

In fact, Turner has had a lot of public bluster that hasn’t gone much of anywhere. But whatever Turner’s tactics, what will not change is that the victim will feel the effects of what happened forever, no matter what a court says. It’s cases like this that explain why, say, the Needham (Mass.) High School administration took a zero-tolerance stance toward supposedly far more innocent hazing with its girls soccer team. Hazing is a power trip, and a school trusts its students not to go too far with it at its own, and its students’, peril.

Carmel hazing update: 1998 revisited, and time to take off the tinfoil hat

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The other day I noted that at Carmel (Ind.) High School, center of criminal investigations into alleged violent and sexual crimes into two separate hazing incidents involving the boys basketball team, had a similar situation pop up in 1998: three senior swimmers accused of harassing, beating and sexually assaulting a freshman teammate in what may or may not have been a case of hazing. I also noted that I couldn’t find any record of what happened to the alleged victim’s lawsuit against the school district and the swimmers.

WISH-TV in Indianapolis got a hold of the court documents and found the boy’s attorney. (Thanks to the intrepid Your Kid’s Not Going Pro reader who tipped me.) Tonight (March 5) the station aired a report that while a bit over the top in linking the swimming incident to the basketball incident — hey, it was 12 years ago, and none of the administrators overseeing (or not) things then are not the ones overseeing things (or not) now — do provide some disturbing parallels into how these incidents happen, and get so out of control. Most disturbing, perhaps, to those who want to see Carmel’s basketball players, coaches and school administrators hanging in the courtyard at dawn is how the 1998 case ended up being resolved.

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Actually, the most direct parallel is with the three seniors being investigated for assaulting two freshman teammates Jan. 22 on a bus trip back from a game in Terre Haute, a 100-mile trip. Like in that case, the victim apparently never stepped forward for whatever reason (in the swimmer’s case, fear that no one would believe three well-liked teammates would do such a thing), and the apparent assaults came to light only when the victim was injured badly enough to go to the hospital, which reported the injuries to the state’s Child Protective Services division.

In each case, coaches and administrators initially appeared to either not believe the victim or failed to appreciate the gravity of the situation. According to WISH-TV, the swimming coach told the freshman, when he complained, to tough it out, that a little “horseplay” was part of being a freshman. In the basketball case, Carmel principal John Williams went on television — WISH-TV, to be exact — to note that, even after a police report on the alleged assault was released, “I’m still pretty comfortable with what happened on that bus and our knowledge of what happened on that bus.” Depending on how the case develops, that sentence could be his career epitaph. (After all, the three seniors were suspended from school and the team for whatever happened on that bus.)

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However, Williams might be OK in the end. In the swimming case, then-coach Tony Young was charged with failing to report a crime — but those charges eventually were dismissed. The swimmers never faced criminal charges. The lawsuit against the school and the swimmers, filed in 2002, was settled for an undisclosed amount soon before trial was scheduled to begin, according to WISH-TV.

One incident in 1998 and another in 2010 do not a pattern of violent hazing behavior make. However, each case shows a common pattern in any school where such an incident emerges: victims are afraid to speak out, coaches don’t want to hear it, and administrators are either left in the dark, intentionally or by their own desire to not hear anything they will have to recite later in a deposition.

That’s why I’m calling for everyone across these Internets who are screaming cover-up to can it. Hazing cases are notoriously difficult to investigate, because you have a lot of potential witnesses, and you have a lot of people who don’t want to say what they’ve seen. (A reason cited as to why the prosecutor in Grand Rapids, Mich., elected not to file criminal charges in a hazing case involving a high school cross country team.)

No doubt, the authorities in Carmel don’t want a bruise on the Indianapolis suburb’s well-polished image as a high-class, desirable place to live. But if no charges end up being filed, if no coach or administrator loses his or her job, it will be a testament to police and administrative incompetence and/or witnesses refusing to say exactly what they know.

On the other hand, those across these Internets, including Carmel’s own city attorney, who are screaming about how the mean ol’ media is attacking the Bestest City in the Universe and harassing poor, innocent high school kids also need to can it. Without the media attention, it’s doubtful there would be a police investigation in the first place. Maybe that’s what those screamers wanted. If there’s any “cover up,” it’s going to come from community pressure to get basketball players and other witnesses not to talk, not an orchestrated campaign by the police.

(Oh, by the way, Carmel lost at home tonight in its own sectional to neighboring Indianapolis ‘burb Westfield, so everybody’s season is over, not just that of the four seniors.)

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