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Back to school

Workshop tackles sports hazing head-on

FRANKLIN — Last August, three Somerville High School soccer players were accused of raping a freshman with a broomstick at a preseason camp in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from that episode, and other disturbing reports of hazing at other schools, has prompted the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association to become more proactive when it comes to hazing and bullying.

On Aug. 13, a small group of high school administrators, athletic directors, and coaches from around the state gathered at the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s headquarters in Franklin to get a crash course on high school hazing and how to prevent it.

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The six-hour session was led by Victoria Fahlberg, a sports psychology consultant, and focused solely on of hazing and bullying in sports. It was the first hazing workshop of its kind to be held by the MIAA, according tosaid spokesman Paul Wetzel.

“In recent years there have been a significant number of incidents of hazing,” said Wetzel. “Somerville soccer had a very serious problem last year.”

The alleged sexual assault by soccer players at Camp Lenox in Otis last August resulted in the arrests of three Somerville High juniors. All of their cases wound up in juvenile court, so the end results of their cases are not public.

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“There are still a fair number of schools that take their teams away to a camp prior to the athletic season,” Wetzel said. “We felt that was another good reason to have a workshop — so ADs, coaches, and principals, among others, could be instructed a little more on the dangers of hazing and how it occurs.”

Have times changed?

Hazing has been around for thousands of years. Fahlberg noted that the earliest record of hazing can be traced back to 387 BC, when Plato bemoaned the hazing activities of young boys.

Whether hazing has increased over time is hard to say, because statistics are hard to come by, and studies have been few and far between.

The most recent comprehensive study on high school hazing was published by Alfred University in 2000, according to Fahlberg. The study, titled “Initiation Rites in American High Schools: A National Survey,” estimated that 1.5 million high school students are hazed each year. According to the study, 48 percent of high school students who belong to groups reported being subjected to hazing activities, 43 percent reported being subjected to humiliating activities, and 25 percent of those who reported being hazed were first hazed before the age of 13.

The study also found that the greatest number of high school hazings occurred on sports teams (24 percent), followed by peer groups or gangs (16 percent), music, art, or theater groups (8 percent), and church groups (7 percent). The survey also showed that 79 percent of NCAA athletes were hazed in high school.

The innate secrecy surrounding hazing makes it even more difficult to quantify. Another obstacle is the age of high school students. There are “not a lot of studies on high school age because they’re minors,” according to Fahlberg.

Dan Lebowitz, executive director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society, said another reason why there is little data on hazing is because it was not always viewed as a bad thing.

“Hazing is a form of bullying that’s most often associated with sports, fraternities,” and other organizations, he said. “It’s an extreme form of bullying.

“It hasn’t been studied that long,” said Lebowitz. “Until people identify or recognize it as a social ill, you won’t see empirical data.”

Indeed, it wasn’t that long ago that certain hazing rituals were viewed as a time-honored tradition at some institutions. In the 1930s and 1940s, The Boston Globe described the “Freshman Daze” at Lasell College as a “two-day period of good-natured, harmless hazing” in which new students wore baby bonnets and carried stuffed animals around campus.

In September 1910, the Globe reported on a “novel hazing stunt” at Tufts College, in which freshmen were forced to sit on washbowls and “row” with brooms. The Globe reported that the dryland rowing was “a big hit with the spectators.”

“None of the rowers were allowed to relax for a moment . . . their desperate efforts with the brooms and washbowls were intensely funny.”

Current law

What was once viewed as an innocent rite of passage could be considered illegal today. The state’s anti-hazing law — Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 269 Sections 17-19 — defines hazing as “any conduct or method of initiation into any student organization, whether on public or private property, which willfully or recklessly endangers the physical or mental health of any student or other person.” Examples of such behavior can include “whipping, beating, branding, forced calisthenics, exposure to the weather, forced consumption of any food, liquor, beverage, drug or other substance, or any other brutal treatment or forced physical activity which is likely to adversely affect the physical health or safety of any such student or other person, or which subjects such student or other person to extreme mental stress, including extended deprivation of sleep or rest or extended isolation.”

Violators can be fined up to $3,000 and sentenced to up to a year in jail. Anyone who witnesses hazing and fails to report it can be punished by a fine of up to $1,000.

The law also requires high schools and colleges to inform student teams, clubs, and groups about these rules every year.

Hazing 101

During the hazing workshop, attendees participated in a role-playing activity in which they were presented with hypothetical hazing incidents (i.e. a freshman football player had to ‘run the gantlet’ as part of his initiation to the team) and discussed how to best address each situation.

Fahlberg also showed a series of video clips of TV news coverage of a hazing scandal that unfolded at Carmel High School in Indiana in 2010. That alleged hazing, which was played down by school officials at first, drew heavy media attention and ultimately resulted in charges being made against four senior basketball players. A discussion followed, and participants commented on what school officials should have done.

“I consider it a case study of what not to do,” said Fahlberg.

Fahlberg recommended that officials keep track of any hazing incidents that occur in their school.

She also stressed the importance of addressing the concerns of alleged victims and their parents, making sure that allegations are investigated thoroughly and properly, and notifying police of any activity that appears to be hazing.

Hazing will be on the
MIAA’s agenda for a long time to come, said Wetzel, and more educational workshops on hazing are likely to be held in the future.

“We need to emphasize to school administrators that some of the customs that have been traditions in past years are no longer acceptable,” said Wetzel. “From time to time there’s a problem, and a coach will say, ‘When I was in high school, this is what we did. . . . We always did this with the freshmen.’ To reinforce that message that it can’t be done seems to be important.”

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.
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