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Hazing allegations continue at summer athletic camps

Many high school sports coaches are now saying what any parent already knows: In an overnight setting with a group of teenagers, it is nearly impossible to supervise them at all times.

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Many high school sports coaches are now saying what any parent already knows: In an overnight setting with a group of teenagers, it is nearly impossible to supervise them at all times.

The hazing allegations were shocking and the details explicit: While attending a summer camp intended to help build team unity in August, three Somerville High School junior varsity soccer players forced their way into a cabin, singled out a freshman, and raped him with a broomstick, a state prosecutor told a court earlier this month.

In Chelmsford, police are investigating about a half-dozen members of the high school football team after an alleged hazing that occurred while they attended a summer camp last month in Moultonborough, N.H.

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And in Northbridge, a town southeast of Worcester, four high school football players last month allegedly pressured a freshman to drink urine during a practice. The victim declined to press charges, and the perpetrators received undisclosed discipline from school officials.

Some 30 years ago, it was a ritual for high school football teams in Eastern Massachusetts to send their squads to overnight summer camps for several days of double sessions and team building. But a string of hazing reports led to most athletic directors ending the visits. And after the recent wave of accusations of alleged hazing at the summer camps, some of the schools that still send players are reconsidering.

“It’s kind of a scary, eye-opening experience,” said Keith Mangan, athletic director in Bedford. The high school’s football team has trained at a New Hampshire camp for a few days in August each of the last seven years, but Mangan said the trip’s future is on the table.

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“There’s definitely going to be some discussions going forward to see if this is something we’re going to continue,” he said.

Other athletic directors across the region expressed the same doubts about whether students at camps can be adequately supervised.

‘There’s no way to watch the kids 24 hours a day. There’s no way to be 100 percent foolproof.’

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“The headaches make it so that you have to think twice about doing it,” said Thom Holdgate, the athletic director at Duxbury High School, which does not send students to camps.

Lowell, which trains at the same camp as Bedford, also plans to review its annual football summer camp. “I think any time there’s an issue of student safety at another school, you want to take a look at your own school,” said athletic director Jim DeProfio.

In Somerville, officials are reviewing the events that led to the rape charges against Galileo Mondol, 17, and two juveniles who attended the summer session at Camp Lenox in the Western Mass. town of Otis. The camp — held at various destinations, the last five in Otis — has been a summer destination for the last 15 years.

For 10 of those years, just the football team attended. But five years ago, the athletic department added the boys’ soccer team, and four years ago the girls’ soccer squad started attending.

This year, 165 students and 20 adults were at the camp, which ran from Aug. 23 to Aug. 26. Law enforcement officials said the alleged rape took place during a daytime break in activities, when the students were unsupervised in a cabin.

Afterward, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone — who served as a volunteer football coach at the retreat — told the Globe the alleged attack took place “yards, if not feet away” from coaches.

This month, Curtatone set up a Student Travel Safety and Review Committee to study trips of this sort sanctioned by the school district.

When asked if the summer sports camp would be suspended or stopped, Curtatone acknowledged the city is reevaluating the program.

“It’s a fair question and we’re obligated to ask this question of ourselves, to review our policies and procedures and make the right decision,” Curtatone said in an e-mail.

“Right now it’s too early to make that decision. We need to have respect for the legal process and let all the facts come out.”

Newton South High School does not send teams to overnights. Scott Perrin, the school’s athletic director, thinks there are too many risks associated with a summer camp program, and he also questioned the practice of holding coed camps with multiple sports teams.

“It’s just an unnecessary distraction. You run a big risk,” he said. “It’s just one of those things where every story I’ve ever heard has never ended good. . . . While working with these kids, anything can go wrong. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

Joseph Russo is the athletic director in Mansfield, where athletes do not attend overnight summer camps.

Russo said it is almost impossible to prevent hazings, despite the significant amount of time coaches and educators spend lecturing students.

“There’s no way to watch the kids 24 hours a day,” he said. “There’s no way to be 100 percent foolproof or prevent it, and that’s where the caution comes from.”

In Moultonborough, N.H., police have not released details about the alleged hazing involving Chelmsford football players at a camp in late August.

Chelmsford Superintendent Frank Tiano said the school district has concluded its investigation and taken action, but he declined to say if any students had been suspended or expelled.

For decades, hazing has been a concern for high school sports officials. In 1985, the state passed an anti-hazing law, which calls for perpetrators to be fined up to $3,000 and sentenced to up to a year in prison if found guilty. But despite the law, hazing has continued.

High schools have been mandated to take steps to eliminate hazing. Under the law, each is required to adopt antihazing policies, and to distribute copies of the law to all students. In addition, student-athletes are required to sign an antihazing pledge before the season begins.

Students who take part in school-sponsored athletic summer camps — along with their parents or guardians — typically sign forms outlining the behavior mandated at camp. Somerville students and their parents signed a code of conduct form that pledged “no hazing of any kind” at the camp.

Don Doucette began his job as Andover High School athletic director the year after several members of the boys’ basketball team allegedly took part in a hazing at a summer athletic camp in 2011.

When the charges surfaced that November, an investigation led to two players facing criminal charges and being expelled; five others were suspended from the team.

Doucette said it’s hard to tell if there’s been a palpable change in culture, since he’s only been there for a year, but he said there were no reports of hazing during the 2012-13 school year.

Paul Wetzel, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, said the agency — which oversees high school sports statewide and has 373 member schools — does not have a policy regarding summer athletic camps, but he believes fewer schools will continue to hold them.

“The risk of significant problems outweighs any of the benefits,” he said. “The benefits most often cited — building teamwork — can be accomplished without going away to camp.”

Barry Haley, athletic director at Concord-Carlisle, said he used to help supervise summer athletic camps decades ago but stopped because of the challenges.

“I saw how difficult it was to supervise 17-year-olds for 24 hours a day,” he said. “I know you can’t supervise them. It’s just an area that’s fraught with the immaturity of a 17-year-old. They do stupid things all of the time.

“It’s not worth a school’s reputation to try, and I would advise them that there’s too much peril,” said Haley, a past president of the MIAA.

John DiBiaso, the athletic director at Everett High, who is also head coach of the football team, said his players went away to summer camp for 17 years but stopped in recent years because the academic year now begins in late August.

DiBiaso said that to his knowledge, the camps were free of hazing because the kids didn’t have “a minute” of free time.

“I think people are just going to shy away from them,” he said, when asked about the recent alleged hazing at camps. “If they’re not supervised right, they are a disaster waiting to happen.”

Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at srosenberg@
globe.com
. Follow him on Twitter @WriteRosenberg.
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