14 Centennial soccer players suspended in hazing incident

Two JV freshmen injured in exercise

September 14, 1999|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Centennial High School has suspended 14 varsity soccer players for an Aug. 31 hazing incident that resulted in injuries to two freshman junior varsity players.

In an exercise called "butts up," most of the 12 freshmen on the junior varsity team were lined up facing the back wall of the school building and forced to bend over and hold their ankles while varsity players punted soccer balls at them from close range, according to a statement from Centennial principal Lynda Mitic, who issued the suspensions.

The most serious injury was a concussion suffered when one player, thinking the exercise was over, turned and was hit in the face by a ball. Another player suffered an undisclosed hand injury, the statement said.

Mitic would not otherwise comment, but her statement said both injured students are back in school and are practicing with the team.

The 14 were suspended from school for no more than five days, the mother of one player said, and will miss two games.

The statement said: "Administrators also learned that the ninth-grade players had experienced other forms of intimidation since the beginning of soccer season. These included their being dragged across a muddy field, having soccer balls punted at them on various occasions and being threatened that they would be thrown into the pond at the back of the school."

The suspended players did not play in Centennial's Friday game against No. 8-ranked Patapsco, which Centennial (1-1) lost, 1-0, in overtime. And they will not play in the first of two scheduled Saturday games at the J. M. Bennett Tournament in Salisbury.

They will be allowed to play the second game.

Centennial has had one of the most successful soccer programs in the area, having won seven state championships.

Centennial soccer head coach Jim Zehe and JV coach Bruce Smith, who warned both the varsity and junior varsity teams on two occasions in August that they wanted no initiation of freshmen, were absolved from blame by Mitic.

The incidents occurred from 2: 45 to 3 p.m., out of sight from coaches busy setting up for practice.

Zehe, first-year varsity head coach, who coached junior varsity last season, declined to comment.

But he told his players before practice yesterday that there were bound to be some hard feelings and that the team had to work together to get over them. Four junior varsity players and nine varsity players combined in the impressive effort against Patapsco.

Emily Parkhurst, mother of one of the suspended players, said: "We're hopeful for a win-win situation so that nobody gets hurt more than they are. It is extremely unfortunate that two players received minor injuries. The varsity players are regretful, quite sincerely, that anyone got hurt. It was not intended to be mean-spirited. `Butts up' is not uncommon at all.

"The soccer team is structured the same way it has been for years. The varsity and junior varsity have certain responsibilities. The JV carries the water and balls and locks the equipment shed. And in the tradition of Centennial during my four years, when the JV didn't fulfill its responsibilities, the varsity took the JV through the same rites of passage they experienced when they were JV. We do not consider this hazing."

Parkhurst said she was upset the players received a suspension from school.

"We were happy that they were suspended from soccer and suggested other punishments such as campus clean-up, after-school detention and Saturday school," Parkhurst said. "These are leaders at school, high achievers from excellent backgrounds. We think that academic suspension is a misapplication of policy for a non-academic activity."

Patti Caplan, spokeswoman for the Howard County school system, would not disclose the length of the suspensions, citing student confidentiality. But Parkhurst said the suspensions had been reduced from the original five days.

The parents of the injured students have not filed any charges. Howard County police spokesman Sgt. Morris Carroll said: "At this juncture, we are not involved."

Don Disney, Howard County coordinator of athletics, said he could not recall disciplinary action taken on any other hazing incident in the county.

"But I would be naive to believe this is the only school involved in doing this. Any parent with knowledge of hazing past or present is negligent not to report it. It's the right thing to do when human rights and safety are involved."

As a result of this incident, Centennial is implementing athletic program changes that eliminate assigning soccer team chores only to freshmen, prohibit starting any practice without coaches present and require athletes and parents to sign a statement setting out school policy on hazing.

Pub Date: 9/14/99

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