August 26, 2010
Hate it or begrudgingly accept it, hazing is a part of the school sports landscape, both in high school and college. It's not particularly rare for a player, even a significant one, to receive a suspension for being involved in hazing. What is rare is seeing an entire program face an indefinite suspension because of hazing allegations.
That's exactly what's happening in Minnesota, where the entire Elk River High School varsity football program has been suspended. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the decision to curb the entire team started when the parent of a player reported to school officials that her son was a hazing victim. After interviewing all 54 players in the program, officials from the Elk River Area School District concluded that the reported hazing was "bigger than an isolated incident," as a district spokesman told the Star Tribune. At this point, there is "enough information to indicate that this is bigger than an isolated incident," district spokesman Casey Mahon told the newspaper. "This could've gone back the past couple of years."
Suspending an entire program for hazing allegations is as rare as you think. This chronological breakdown will give some perspective. From 1980-2000, there was only one example of a full team suspension: The 1997 Westlake (Calif.) High School wrestling squad, which was shut down because of sodomy allegations.
So, what kind of hazing was going on here? We don't know exactly, but we do know that despite the fact that no one has needed medical attention, it was serious enough that the school district has hired a law firm to conduct an independent investigation. According to the Elk River Star News, the Elk River Police Department is also conducting an investigation, and may bring criminal charges against some players involved. It's unknown when either investigation will end, but both could drag on beyond the team's Sept. 2 season opener at home against Becker High School.
While the team's long-term fate won't be revealed until all investigations are concluded, one thing is certain: This can't be a good sign for the job security of Elk River head coach Mike Cross. The school's health teacher has coached the Elks for the past six years, but that wouldn't seem to make him safe from backlash over a hazing epidemic while he was on watch.
Even if Cross and his program are cleared, Mahon said that the Elk River Area School District is not about to take future shenanigans lightly.
"This is about safety and security of our students," he told the Star Tribune. "We've got policy. There are the state high school rules, and there is state law. Every kid who comes to our school needs to know that they are safe and secure."