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Carmel hazing update: Making 'appropriate behavior' more clear

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On March 8, Carmel Clay (Ind.) Schools superintendent Jeff Swensson, in a prepared statement he read at a school board meeting, said a review of student handbooks is in order following hazing allegations that ended getting four Carmel High seniors tossed off the basketball team, at least one victim injured enough to require a hospital trip, and police and media crawling all over the school.

It’s interesting Swensson said that. Because in a Feb. 24 news conference, Swensson said the district was clear in the student handbook that “inappropriate behavior” already was not tolerated. From that event, where Swensson read another prepared statement with the cadence and verve of someone who rehearsed every verbal tic for the benefit of lawyers:

“We are clear in advance about our expectations for appropriate behavior. [The] student handbook sets forth standard for that appropriate behavior.”

At the time, the only issue was three senior players — Scott Laskowski, Robert Kitzinger and Brandon Hoge — “bullying” two freshmen Jan. 22 on the back of a bus on a 100-mile trip back from a game in Terre Haute. The school had not yet suspended Oscar Faludon for his alleged attack in a locker room. Both cases are being investigated by Carmel police, with possible charges including criminal deviate conduct — a felony and a crime that puts you on the lifetime sex offender registry.

Also, at that point the story seemed somewhat in control for Carmel schools, until local media pounded on police to release their reports, which even heavily redacted showed possible cases of shocking brutality, at least shocking if you think of suburban student-athletes as future leaders of America, rather than future prison roomies.

That police investigation is still ongoing, but the school board has acknowledged it’s getting intense pressure from many in the community to get this settled, to have the alleged offenders shot on sight (or at least sufficiently punished), and to figure out how they’re going to guarantee that their kids can go to school and play sports without worrying about some power-mad or otherwise disturbed teammate committing acts of violence against them.

As for that Carmel student handbook, WTHR-TV in Indianapolis, the local NBC affiliate, notes that it barely mentions hazing:

The current rules appear to fall far short of that goal. Carmel High School’s student handbook clearly prohibits bullying, but says nothing of hazing. Its handbook for athletes devotes two-and-a-half pages to the criteria for athletic awards.

But hazing? There’s a single line prohibiting horseplay, roughhousing, hazing and initiations – beneath the warnings to wear proper clothing and drink plenty of water.

Of course, merely adding more verbiage to the student handbook isn’t going to stop hazing, any more than a protective order prevents someone’s dangerous boyfriend from stopping over. Swensson also discussed other means of fighting hazing, such as reviewing supervision practices. In the bus incident, the seniors weren’t supposed to be on that bus, and the coaches on the bus, at most, walked to the back of the bus and told everyone to be quiet.

Swensson also said he was “deeply troubled” by the allegations. As well he should be. In that Feb. 24 news conference, Swensson spent much more time talking about how much the Carmel schools punished “inappropriate” behavior and were clear in their desire for “appropriate” behavior, using both words so much you could have made an inappropriate, or appropriate, drinking game out of them.

However, it would be unfair to pick on Swensson, and Carmel, speaking of each as if its reaction were some outrageously unique act. The most depressing part of the whole saga is that it has happened at other schools (even Carmel, once before), it probably is happening at other schools right now, and it certainly will happen at other schools later.

States — looking at college fraternities and sororities — have passed anti-hazing legislation, with Utah a notable case of a state considering such a law now. While Carmel is a problem, it is not the problem. The problem is that somehow, someway, students get a tacit OK from parents, coaches and administrators that hazing is no big deal. And that if something happens to make it a big deal, too many people in the community argue that everyone else is making too big a deal out of it.

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