Metro

Belt, broom handle used in hazings, school says

After ‘poor performances’ during meets, teammates struck at Bridgewater-Raynham

Several members of the Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School wrestling team allegedly hazed their teammates by hitting them with a belt and a broom handle after what were considered poor performances during meets, the school superintendent said yesterday.

The longtime coach of the team was fired last week, and the season was temporarily put on hold, while Bridgewater police investigate the alleged hazing that reportedly took place during a team practice.

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“The incidents that occurred involved teammates taking it upon themselves to discipline fellow teammates for poor performance,’’ said Superintendent Jacqueline B. Forbes. “The discipline consisted of striking teammates who did not perform as expected with a belt or a broom handle.’’

Details about the hazing are not clear. Forbes said the school’s investigation has been completed and the wrestling season will resume, but police are continuing to investigate.

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“The police investigation has been narrowed and is still ongoing,’’ Forbes said.

The Globe reported Sunday that four wrestling captains had been suspended. Forbes said she was prohibited by law from specifying disciplinary actions taken against students, but said “school district policies permit up to, and including, suspension.’’

Forbes said a series of antihazing and antibullying workshops are being organized for students, coaches, and staff at the high school.

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The alleged hazing at Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School is the latest in a series of recent reports of hazing at Massachusetts schools.

In Andover, school officials in December moved to expel two high school basketball players for a sexually oriented hazing targeting two underclassmen over the summer. In Needham, the high school principal suspended girls on the varsity soccer team for hazing younger teammates in 2010. During that same fall season, Agawam school officials suspended four players and four coaches for the Thanksgiving Day football game for an alleged hazing that the superintendent said “went beyond what I call towel whipping.’’

While some may dismiss the reports as team-bonding or horseplay, school officials have taken a hard line. The head of the state’s association of school superintendents says hazing has become less frequent as awareness has increased.

“Periodically there are incidents that arise. Since the [state] hazing law came into effect, there’s been a significant reduction,’’ said Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. “The situations we’re seeing now are intermittent situations, not a pattern.’’

The state’s antihazing law, enacted in 1985, and school policies help send a clear message to students that there is zero tolerance for hazing in school, Scott said. “It tells others that ‘this is not OK, we’re not going to put up with it,’ ’’ he added.

The Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents does not track reports of hazing; nor does the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association.

“We really have no role in this situation,’’ said Paul Wetzel, an MIAA spokesman. “Hazing is against the law. The law is very clear: If a school administrator becomes aware of a potential violation of hazing law . . . he or she is required to report it to police.’’

Scott said the most recent reports of hazing in Massachusetts high schools have been isolated incidents that “are taken seriously.’’

Bridgewater-Raynham’s varsity and junior varsity wrestling teams practiced Thursday night for the first time since school officials suspended the season Jan. 14, after the allegations of hazing surfaced and longtime head coach Jeff Francis was dismissed.

Francis, a 47-year-old alumnus of the school, confirmed by phone that he had been fired and was no longer a member of the coaching staff.

Francis lives in Raynham and has been coaching the school’s wrestling team for 25 years, 18 as assistant coach, and seven as head coach.

In interviews with the Globe, Francis described his dismissal as a shock.

Fred Conrad will serve as interim head coach of the team, which was 7-3 before the season was put on hold. School officials have lifted the suspension. Bridgewater-Raynham was scheduled to host a meet today, but it was canceled because of expected inclement weather.

Members of the wrestling team declined to comment on the suspensions and alleged hazing, saying they had been instructed to refer questions to Dan Buron, the school’s athletic director. Buron did not return calls seeking comment.

Joseph R. Pacheco, chairman of the Raynham Board of Selectmen, said he agreed with how Bridgewater-Raynham handled the situation.

“Obviously, in my opinion, there’s no place for this type of activity,’’ said Pacheco. “My biggest concern is that a message is sent that this is not behavior that’s acceptable. Any type of hazing - verbal, physical - is not acceptable.’’

School Committee chairwoman Patricia A. Riley said the school district has “stepped up’’ efforts to prevent violence and bullying in recent years and believes the upcoming workshops can only help. “We’re moving in the right direction,’’ she said. “This is an ongoing effort.’’

Akilah Johnson contributed to this report. Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.
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