In the state of Massachusetts, every team circles one date on its calendar: Thanksgiving Thursday. For practically each team in the Bay State, the biggest game of the year is played on turkey day. Most programs stage their biggest rivalry games then, and entire towns from suburban Boston and beyond practically shut down to stage miniature celebrations dedicated to high school football.
That's the case for Agawam (Mass.) High and West Springfield (Mass.) High, scheduled to face off on Thanksgiving Day this week. Instead, the two teams may be home with their families this year. According to the Boston Globe and MassLive.com, the Agawam public schools superintendent said she is considering canceling the game because of a football hazing incident that occurred at the school last Wednesday.
"When a crime is committed, I need to enforce the law,'' Agawam superintendent Mary Czajkowski told the Globe. "It's an unfortunate situation, not just for our students but for our high school.''
Czajkowski told the Globe that the hazing occurred in the team's locker room after school last week, and that four senior players have been suspended and four coaches placed on administrative leave by the district. The incident was first brought to the school's attention when the parent of one of the hazed students contacted both local police and the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association. Police are still investigating, and it remains undetermined whether any of the players or coaches will be charged related to the incident.
All of those suspended players and coaches will miss the traditional matchup, yet the superintendent intimated that she was considering taking broader action to send a statement about how hazing will not be tolerated in her district.
"We are entrusted with the safety of these students,'' she said.
"That's our duty, our obligation, to secure their safety. If they wanted to play, that's something they should have thought about.''
While the hazing charges have shaken up the Agawam area -- a school committee member said she had never heard of hazing allegations in the district before this week -- the hidden victims from the game's suspension are equally shocked and saddened, both by the issues taking hold of their rivals and the possibility that their seniors' final Thanksgiving Day game could be taken away without their input.
"This is something they look forward to their whole life," West Springfield coach Chad LaBonte told the Globe.
All LaBonte and his team can do now is hope Agawam can reach an agreement on internal punishment that doesn't cancel the entire game. At the moment, the early indications of that happening don't look too good.
"We're shocked about it,'' Agawam School Committee member Shelley Reed told the Globe. "When you play football, you're on a team. We're not going to tolerate it.''