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Posts Tagged ‘Indiana

And the team said, long-haired freaky people need not apply

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A family of a 14-year-old is suing the Greensburg (Ind.) schools over its policy requiring short hair for boys playing sports. From The Indianapolis Star:

In a lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, Patrick and Melissa Hayden say team rules governing the length of players’ hair violate their son’s right to wear his hair the way he wants and also treat male and female athletes differently because female players don’t have to adhere to the same guidelines.

Their 14-year-old son, identified as A.H. in the lawsuit, was kicked off the team this fall after he refused to cut his hair to comply with team rules, which require players’ hair to be above their eyebrows, collars and ears.

The Haydens said in the lawsuit that they met with the basketball coach and school officials, but no one would change the policy. So they sued. …

But the school district claims the policy didn’t violate the boy’s rights, partly because participating in extracurricular activities is a privilege, not a right.

Courts have split hairs (har!) in the past over these cases, sometimes saying that, yes, if a school wants to require every boy to have a crewcut to play sports, that’s OK, as long as the activity is not part of the instructional day.

You might be asking — hey, isn’t Greensburg already notorious for a case of intolerance? Why, yes, it is — the suicide of gay Greensburg High student Billy Lucas was the impetus for the It Gets Better Project to fight gay teen bullying and suicides.

As for the haircut case, if the middle-school coach is lucky, someday this 14-year-old and some of his friends will adopt a bastardized version of his name as the moniker of their very popular rock band.

Greensburg Junior High basketball coach, gaze upon your future self.

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Written by rkcookjr

January 4, 2011 at 12:59 am

Parent goes to youth basketball game, gets stabby

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One of the many reasons I advocate against laws allowing guns at youth sports events is the powder-keg of emotions in the stands. And what can set it off is not necessarily anything going on in the game. A youth sports event can be a wondrous event to bring families together in harmony — or a horrible excuse for broken families to get together to settle their differences.

From The Indianapolis Star:

MIDDLETOWN, Ind. — Police say a man stabbed his wife’s ex-husband during a fight that broke out during a youth basketball game at a Central Indiana school. Henry County Sheriff Butch Baker says 34-year-old Eric Allred, Muncie, suffered a non-life-threatening stab wound to his torso and was taken to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.

Baker tells The [Muncie] Star Press that Allred and 27-year-old Christopher Ellis, Middletown, started arguing in the bleachers during Saturday’s game at Shenandoah Elementary School. Baker says the fight then moved into a restroom, where Ellis attacked Allred with a knife.

The [Anderson, Ind.] Herald Bulletin reports Allred is the father of a child who was playing.

Ellis was being held in the Henry County Jail on preliminary aggravated battery charges.

OK, let me rephrase that — people shouldn’t be bringing any weapons to a kids game. At least, though, a knife can do limited damage compared to a gun. And, with no guns allowed, a trigger-happy vigilante can’t decide to step in the middle of a, shall we say, dicey domestic situation.

Written by rkcookjr

November 8, 2010 at 10:22 pm

Carmel hazing update — if one player pleads guilty, does he sing?

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The legally convoluted Carmel (Ind.) High School basketball hazing case(s) has its lasted twist and turn — one of the players is apparently ready to plead guilty to charges related to bullying a fellow player in the locker room. Scott Laskowski, 20, son of former Indiana University player and announcer John Laskowki, has a plea hearing scheduled for Nov. 4 in Hamilton County (Ind.) Court, which various legal experts contacted by local Indianapolis media say is where Laskowski and his attorneys would be expected to put forward a plea agreement.

If you want all the down-and-dirty details to one of the more infamous hazing cases of 2010, go to the search bar on the right for “Carmel,” and you should get everything.

But the short version is that Laskowski is one of four now-graduated players facing various misdemeanor charges on what have been called hazing attacks, or bullying attacks, or just plain attacks on team members (or one team member) on a bus back from a game in Terre Haute, 100 miles from the north Indianapolis suburb, and in the Carmel locker room. The case became particularly infamous, at least locally and among the readership that spiked when I posted about it, because school officials at first seemed more than happy to accept the team’s explanation that nothing big really happened — until state child protection reported that the assaults could be considered sexual in nature and resulted in injury to one of the victims.

Four Carmel players — Laskowski, Robert Kitzinger, Brandon Hoge and Oscar Faludon — face misdemeanor charges in Hamilton County for the locker room incident, a decision by the county prosecutor that itself caused a lot of controversy locally because there was a feeling the charges were light compared to the alleged offense. An investigation is still under way by the prosecutor in Hendricks County, in west suburban Indianapolis, where the bus assault was alleged to have taken place.

As I’ve written about before — and put “hazing” into that search bar on the right if you want more details — hazing cases are hard to win, because the defendants tend to circle the wagons, and because there is still a boys-will-be-boys mentality among schools and prosecutors that prevents them from cracking down on athletes, and because there is a fear at schools in well-heeled communities (which is where a lot of these cases seem to take place — such as Carmel) of a hit to their image and to “ruining” the future of “good” kids.

The most interesting part about Laskowski’s apparent interest in a plea deal is that, as experts, including Hamilton County Prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp, point out, in cases involving multiple defendants, one part of a plea deal is that the person then testifies against the others. Leerkamp doesn’t acknowledge that this is the case with Laskowski

But it would interesting if self-preservation is starting to take hold. After all, Laskowski is a “good” kid from a prominent family, and even though to some (such as the victim’s lawyer) the misdemeanor charges don’t go far enough, one wonders (OK, that one is me) if the calculation is being made that the longer this case lasts, the more Laskowski’s bright future starts to dim. If Laskowski does testify against his former teammates, at the least it would be a rare case of the wall breaking down when athletes get in trouble for hazing, bullying, or whatever the hell you want to call it.

Concussions: More of a silent killer than we knew

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As a youth sports coach, I’m taught to look for concussion symptoms to help a player avoid further damage. However, new research is showing that the damage could already be happening even if a player is showing no outward signs of injury. From the Chicago Tribune:

…[A] new study of an Indiana high school football team hints that some athletes are suffering brain injuries that go undiagnosed, allowing the players to continue getting battered, unaware of the possible cognitive damage that has been done.

Of 21 high school players monitored for a full season by a team of researchers from Purdue University, four players who were never diagnosed with concussions were found to have suffered brain impairment that was at least as bad as that of other players who had been deemed concussed and removed from play.

“They’re not exhibiting any outward sign and they’re continuing to play,” said Thomas Talavage, an associate professor at the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering at Purdue and the lead researcher on the study. “The cognitive impairment that we observed with them is actually worse than the one observed with the concussed players.”

The report, published in the latest edition of the Journal of Neurotrauma, found that some players received more than 1,800 hits to the head during practices and games, some with a force 20 times greater than what a person would feel while riding a roller coaster.

The research is coming out as the debate rages over what is more damaging: one hard, individual hit, or the cumulative effects of multiple collisions. The science is rapidly pointing to the latter. It helps explain why the brain of the late Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry showed concussion damage, even though he was never diagnosed with such a condition, and why the brain of Penn player Owen Thomas, who committed suicide in August, showed trauma, even though he had never been diagnosed with a concussion.

In the Chicago Tribune article, players and coaches aren’t dismissive of the study’s results. Their worry is more about whether their players and teammates will play hard if they’re worried about head injuries.

“It’s a tough slope because you could end up scaring kids away from even playing football, and you see that a lot,” said Michael Holmes, the football coach at Leo High School in Chicago. “We make our kids conscious of it, but we don’t try to scare them.”

Reilly O’Toole, quarterback at Wheaton [Ill.] Warrenville South High School, said he doesn’t think at all about head injuries.

“If you think about injuries or concussions, that’s when they happen,” he said. “Once you start playing not to get hurt, that’s when you get hurt. It’s a contact sport. If you don’t like contact, you shouldn’t be playing.”

The Purdue researchers aren’t (yet) calling for the end of tackle football, but they are recommend scaling back full-contact practices so kids don’t have to take so many hits.

By the way, the Purdue researchers, citing their continuing study, are not telling the Lafayette Jefferson High players which of the four have signs of, not to put too fine a point on it, brain damage. If it were my kid, I would be demanding to know if mine was one of the four.

Why a Midwestern suburb is going on a youth sports building frenzy

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Here is an example on what gets built, and what doesn’t, in our not-officially-in-a-recession economy.

In the fast-growing Indianapolis suburb of Westfield, Ind., there was a proposed $1 billion, 1,400-acre project that was going to include mostly new housing and stores, but would also have 150 acres set aside for youth sports fields, a new Y, and a minor-league baseball stadium. Because of the lousy real estate market, the housing-and-stores part of the development has been cut by two-thirds.

Meanwhile, the athletics portion of the project has broken off, and its size has doubled — to 300 acres, or as the Indianapolis Business Journal points out, the size of the Kings Island amusement park.

I’ve written about it here before (and before that), and I’ll write about it again, because cities keep doing it:  using youth sports as an economic development tool. And why not? At most, your huge complex can host scads of tournaments, which means scads of out-of-town teams, which means scads of parents and kids spending money at your hotels and restaurants. At worst, if the out-of-towners don’t show up, you can justify the cost of the project (and Westfield’s was estimated, when it was half the current size, at around $60 million) by pointing out that, unlike building a new NFL stadium, the community gets to use it.

Even in the throes of the recession, parents in unemployment-scarred towns such as Elkhart, Ind., ponied up to put their kids in sports. As one parent told me in 2009, he will cut any other expense, because “if you save $5, it’s $5 you can spend on your child.” With such a loyal spending base to work with, it’s no wonder even little towns like Edwardsburg, Mich. (population 1,200), have huge sports complexes in the planning or construction stages.

After all, you don’t want to have your hometown newspaper write about all the tournaments (and money) you lost because you didn’t keep up with the Basketball Joneses. (Often, the local coverage of proposed complexes sounds a lot like the fawning articles that beat the drums for taxpayer-funded pro stadiums. Sample headline: “New sports complex offers cities financial home run.”) Again, so what if the promised multimillion-dollar impact from youth tournaments doesn’t happen? At least your kids have a nice place to play, right?

Westfield, population 27,000, is much more ambitious than most cities building youth sports complexes. Instead of just saying, we’re building a complex, Westfield and its mayor, Andy Cook (no relation to your humble blogger) have declared they are building “The Family Sports Capital of America.”

Why so grandiose? Westfield, located in Indiana’s Hamilton County, one of the fastest-growing in the nation, is trying to grab more of the executives who have been more apt to settle in other suburbs, particularly Carmel, located immediately to Westfield’s south. Carmel (hometown of your humble blogger) itself has stood out nationally because of its grand schemes, such as its embrace of roundabouts, its snagging of Michael Feinstein and his Great American Songbook, and its getting Kendra Wilkinson to film her reality show there. A few years back, the U.S. Census Bureau renamed the Indianapolis metropolitan area the Indianapolis-Carmel metro. One of Westfield’s few claims to fame was being the home of a serial killer.

Carmel has always been bigger, richer and more important than Westfield, and damnit, if the town was going to be known for being more than Carmel’s leftovers, it needed to do something grand. Hence, “The Family Sports Capital of America.” (Giving yourself a grandiose nickname is a tradition among Hoosiers. See Michael Jackson, “King of Pop.”)

With ground yet to be broken, we’re a long way from finding out whether Westfield can pop a big civic boner in the face of its rival, which I just realized is a highly inappropriate metaphor in a piece about a place kids play. But we are hardly a long way away from cities of any size determining that putting money into shiny, new youth sports complexes is maybe not such a good idea after all. As long as parents are willing to spend their last $5 on their kids and their sports, there is going to be a market for the facilities. The only question might be is if some other town is going to try to beat Westfield to the “Family Sports Capital of America” punch.

(Actually, Blaine, Minn., already did.)

Written by rkcookjr

October 6, 2010 at 1:21 am

When cutting a high school gym means cementing a city's death

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You would think the Anderson (Ind.) school district, in a 40-year decline that is resulting in the shutdown of one high school and four other schools at the end of the 2009-2010, plus another 170 teachers cut from the schools that are left, might decide that now is the time to shut down its 9,000-seat basketball arena, which costs about $350,000 a year in utilities alone, or twice the cost of utilities for a whole elementary school. But shutting down the Wigwam, the acknowledged heart and soul of the Indiana high school basketball phenomenon known as Hoosier Hysteria, isn’t about money. It’s about a desperate town wanting to hold onto its last shred and symbol of pride and relevancy.

Again, the Wigwam survives, 13 years after the high school it originally was affiliated with closed, 11 years after a fire that burned down the old high school and would have burned down the gym had firefighters not made a heroic effort to save it, and 10 years after the idea of shutting it down was first broached in earnest after a school referendum failed. On May 11 the Wigwam dodged its latest bullet, when the Anderson school board voted 4-2 against a proposal to open the Wigwam up only to outside rentals, and have basketball games played at the 3,500-seat gym at the one high school that’s left — Anderson High School, sitting in what used to be Madison Heights High School (RIP), and next year to absorb the closed Highland High School.

There is an argument to keeping the Wigwam open beyond the long and storied history of Anderson Indians basketball. A few attached classrooms survived the fire, and they’re used for administrative purposes and special programs. But, really, the only argument for keeping the Wigwam open as Anderson, the city and school district, collapses around it is emotion.

Anderson’s population peaked at 70,000 in 1970, when the city had about 40,000 GM jobs. The population is sinking to 55,000, now that there are zero GM jobs. You could film a “Roger and Me” sequel in Anderson.

There are a few stirrings of economic activity, and Anderson did come back once from the decimation of the end of the Indiana Gas Boom in the 1910s. But riding through the city now is an exercise in watching slow death. The school district enrollment peaked in 1971 and has fallen even sense, with a continual 2-3 percent annual decline. To give you an idea of how bad things are for the Anderson schools, the new superintendent, Felix Chow, was hired in part because he had worked in this situation before — as superintendent of schools in Flint, Mich.

When a friend and I visited Anderson and its coach, Ron Hecklinski, in 2000 while doing a travel story for the Chicago Tribune on Indiana high school gyms (in Indiana, a 9,000-seat arena like the Wigwam or the No. 1 arena, New Castle’s Fieldhouse, is called a “gym”), Hecklinski was lamenting the decline in Anderson. “Every time I read the obituaries,” he said, “I say, there goes another season-ticket holder.” But the lure of Wigwam, the one that made him leave an assistant’s job at Ball State to coach high school ball, remained strong. Then, as now, he was sure that if the Wigwam shut down, he would have to leave Anderson. Anyplace else would be just a gym.

Even though everyone calls the Wigwam a gym, to Hecklinski — as to much of Indiana — the Wigwam is more special than that. “When people walk in here,” I remember Hecklinski saying, “they go, ‘Whoa.'” It’s not just the size of the Wigwam — it’s the intensity of the crowd, which remains even as its numbers dwindle. I suspect the continued use of Native American imagery — including a pregame chief and maiden dance — are held onto less out of mere tradition than as a reminder of the days when everyone in Anderson came to the games from their good-paying jobs.

That’s not something Anderson wants to give up on, even if the auto economy has long given up on Anderson. Richard Tompkins of Anderson wrote a letter to his local newspaper, the Herald-Bulletin, that sums up what the Wigwam means to so many in that city:

We lost our factories and that really devastated this city, but I can think of two great parts of Anderson tradition right now that has given us so much pleasure and is well known throughout the state: The Lemon Drop and the Wigwam.  These are two places we have enjoyed that have been around for generations and are part of the heritage and history of Anderson. This city has lost so much — the factories, far too many citizens, two great high schools, sectional and regional basketball; don’t continue to destroy what we have.

It’s sad, when you think about it, that someone feels all their once-thriving city has left is a famed diner and a gym. And when you feel that sadness, you realize why even when it seems financially wise to shut down that massive gym, it would be a psychic death blow to a city already pockmarked with large, rotting graveyards of what used to be jobs.

Would shutting down the Wigwam had saved some teachers’ jobs? Or a school? Maybe. But probably not. The declining enrollment, more than the Wigwam, has seen that those cuts would happen. But what about other entertainment options? Anderson is only about a 45-minute drive from Indianapolis — couldn’t people go see the Pacers or Colts, or Butler? Or won’t Anderson High basketball still be played in Anderson, but in another gym? Again, all true. But pointing the people of Anderson to entertainment elsewhere strips the city of its last piece of family-entertainment identity (there’s a horse track and casino, but you’re not going to bring your kids there). And no one is coming to Anderson from anyone else to see the team play in a smaller gym — but they’ll come to the Wigwam.

I’m not saying that keeping the Wigwam open while Anderson struggles is exactly the right decision. But I can understand why the people of Anderson want to hold onto it. At this point, it’s practically Anderson’s reason for being.

Carmel hazing update: A grand jury is called, and a lawsuit is on the way

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One of the two prosecutors involved with investigating criminal charges related to hazing by Carmel (Ind.) High School basketball team members said in March that she didn’t see any reason for her inquiry to go “on and on.” Yet it’s nearly May, and on and on the criminal case goes — just as it appears a civil case is just beginning.

The latest development in the criminal investigation is that Hamilton County prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp, investigating a police report of hazing inside the Carmel locker room on Jan. 8 that may involve a sex crime, has called a grand jury to hear evidence in that case.

Fox59 in Indianapolis is reporting that the grand jury, which convened April 23, also is hearing evidence regarding three players accused of possible sex crimes for a Jan. 22 hazing incident that took place on the 100-mile bus ride back to the north Indianapolis suburb from a game in Terre Haute.

Other outlets are reporting merely that Hendricks County prosecutor Pat Baldwin’s investigation is taking longer than expected because there are “just more people to hear from.” Hendricks County, located west of Indianapolis, is the venue for that investigation because any crime is alleged to have taken place while the bus was motoring along there.

In any case, why a grand jury? Here is an explanation from WIBC radio in Indianapolis that seems to speak to a common reason why youth sports hazing cases don’t get prosecuted — all parties’ tendency to clam up unless legally compelled to speak:

Leerkamp says she turns to a grand jury in cases in which witnesses’ statements need to be pinned down under oath, or to help compel witnesses to testify. She says she’s also used grand juries in cases where she feels the community’s guidance is needed on whether charges should be filed.

In the Carmel case, another factor may be confidentiality. Prosecutors, school officials and Carmel police have released little information about the locker-room accusations and a separate investigation of an incident on the basketball team bus. In both cases, the city of Carmel released only heavily blacked-out versions of the police reports.

Maybe confidentiality wasn’t exactly the right word, but the point is that often those involved in hazing incidents, including the victims, dummy up like mobsters, making it difficult if not impossible for a criminal case to fly.

With a grand jury (available in all federal cases but in only half of states), a prosecutor has a chance to run a rough draft of the case by people from the outside world, and subpoena witnesses to testify. However, in Indiana, there are no guarantees that the accused will take the stand in front of the grand jury. From Gregg Stark, a Carmel-based defense attorney:

Experienced criminal attorneys know to advise a client that he or she need not appear before such a body if they are a target of a criminal investigation or restrict or eliminate their testimony altogether if their appearance could diminish their legal protections and incriminate them where called as a witness.

What might be surprising to people is the fact that a criminal defense lawyer may not appear before a grand jury once the client comes before it to give testimony.

Certainly, both the Hamilton and Hendricks county prosecutors are being extremely careful, as well they should if they want criminal charges to happen, and stick.

A criticism of the grand jury system is that prosecutors can slant the proceedings to get the indictment they want, but I don’t see that happening here. The case is too fragile and politically explosive — with a backlash possible from Carmel basketball supporters and whatever people of power the accused team members might know, or from anyone who feels like authorities have been too accommodating in the name of trying to keep Carmel’s image as a desirable, posh suburb from tarnishing.

Of course, as we might remember from the O.J. Simpson case, a civil suit doesn’t have nearly the hurdles a criminal case does to have every fact straight. If you follow the Carmel hazing case, you could learn this lesson all over again. From WRTV in Indianapolis:

The attorney for one of the victims in an assault involving Carmel High School basketball players has notified the school district that the family plans to sue.

Robert Turner was retained last month by one of two freshman boys who school officials previously said had been hazed by three senior players as the team returned home from a boy’s basketball game in Terre Haute on the night of Jan. 22.

Turner told 6News’ Joanna Massee that the suit will be filed in federal court and will allege, among other things, that the boy’s civil rights were violated.

Written by rkcookjr

April 27, 2010 at 11:15 pm