August 30, 2010
Less than a week after the entire Elk River football program was suspended for allegations of hazing, four players were kicked off the varsity football team permanently, five other players were disciplined and five coaches -- including head coach Mike Cross -- were put on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a further investigation.
Of the five additional players that were suspended, three will be forced to sit out four games, while the remaining two will miss the season opener and then return to action.
According to the Associated Press and Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the hazing that landed the team an indefinite suspension, and earned four players a permanent ban, involved the prodding of players' buttocks with a broomstick, the same hazing ritual that earned the entire Westlake (Calif.) high school wrestling program a season-long suspension in 1997. However, Elk River Police Chief Jeffrey Beahen told the Star-Tribune that no players indicated their genetalia had been struck during the hazing events.
The Elk River Star News reported of mixed reactions to the punishments, which were handed out following two closed-door meetings of the Elk River Area School Board on Sunday night.
Players Matt Madsen and Tyler Roserdahl told KSTP-TV they thought the district was overreacting.
"I just think this whole thing just got blown up out of proportion from what it should have been," said Madsen.
"We're a family and we're being broken up because of a joke that's gone way out of proportion," Roserdahl said.
Meanwhile, Elk River Superintendent Mark Bezek made it clear the school board was focused on student safety foremost, citing the existing punishments as a way for the team to play its season while also holding players who were directly responsible for the hazing responsible.
"It's all about student safety," Bezek told the Elk River Star News. "We take this serious, and we won't tolerate (hazing)."
With seven of the team's 12 coaches back from leave, the Elks returned to practice on Monday, preparing for the program's scheduled season opener against Becker High School on Thursday night.
Though most players and coaches are back at practice, the Elk River hazing incident isn't over yet. The private firm of Ratwik, Roszak and Maloney is in the midst of an investigation into the team's coaches, with the five coaches still on paid administrative leave -- including Cross -- awaiting possible discipline or dismissal.
Additionally, the Elk River Police Department is expected to send the findings of their investigation to prosecutors Tuesday, though Beahen said he doubted additional charges would be filed against players due to a lack of cooperation from teammates.
"Memories seem to be slipping," Beahen told the Association Press.