Napa scandal puts hazing in spotlight

JOHN MURPHY  

School and team hazing are like the red, itchy rash that just will not go away. You try balms and lotions, but the attack is relentless.

If it does vanish for a spell, it seems to reappear when you least expect it and wreak its havoc again. Such was the case at Napa High School in the otherwise genteel wine country, where a hazing complaint was reported to Napa police on Nov. 19 regarding an alleged assault involving junior football varsity players holding teammates down, grabbing them and hitting them.

The aftermath has been ugly, with two players expelled and veteran and well-regarded football coach Troy Mott resigning after the district refused to give him control over the rehiring of his assistant coaches for next season.

Neither Kingsburg Joint Union High School District Athletic Director Thomas Sembritzki, Selma Unified School District AD Randy Esraelian nor Kingsburg football coach David Wilson, when contacted, had heard of the mess in wine country, but Esraelian had heard of a local example.

“There was an incident made public at Lemoore [two years ago[ and a coach was let go because of it,” he said. “You hear about it here and there. Hazing is a pretty big buzzword. There’s no longer any tolerance for older kids putting younger kids through a baptism of fire.”

Hazing is defined by legaldictionary.net as “The act of forcing humiliating or abusive tasks upon someone in order to ridicule him, or to initiate him into a group.” The term comes from the late 17th century French word “haser,” which means to irritate or annoy.

According to insidehazing.com, 91 percent of high school students belong to at least one group, and 48 percent of them report being hazed. Forty-three percent were subjected to humiliating activities and 30 percent performed potentially illegal acts as part of their initiation. Every type of high school group was involved in hazing, including 24 percent in church groups.

Like that red rash, nobody wishes it on anyone, and you especially won’t want it yourself.

“Our coaches meet with the players and go over their expectations,” Sembritzki said. “There is no manuscript for when things go crazy and bad things happen, like when we had multiple suicides at our school one year.”

Neither has Wilson experienced any hazing problems in the Kingsburg football program, though the possibility is always there.

“Culturally, it’s not something that’s happened here,” he said. “I remember in college in the 1990s we had a talent show and if the seniors didn’t approve of your routine, you got your head shaved, but I didn’t even think of that as hazing, per se.”

Definitely examples of hazing in other areas or what Sembritzki described as “when things go crazy” are these:

  • In 2014, two Woodside High School basketball coaches were fired after an incident at a motel in Newman where the team was playing in a holiday tournament. Two players were allegedly jumped and beaten and then taped to chairs. One player had lipstick applied to his face and the other was forced to watch Spanish-language television for hours.
  • Mountain View High of Mesa, Ariz. football coach Bernie Busken, who led the team to three state championships in the 1990s, was fired in the spring of 2002 for allowing hazing rituals, including “pink bellies” (slapping someone on the stomach until their skin turns pink or red), to continue after being warned by the district, according to the Arizona Republic.
  • In the barren, windswept town of Yucca Valley in 2000, five Yucca Valley High football players settled for a sexual battery charge after admitting involvement in a sexual assault at an off-campus football camp.

The latter is ill, criminal behavior, and a long way from a shaved head after a bad talent show skit. The problem is, there is no wiggle room now when it comes to teasing or horseplay. These are teenagers, and some do not grasp the difference between horseplay and outright brutality or sodomy, the latter a growing trend according to a recent “Outside the Lines” report. As a result, student-athletes are being victimized, some are getting expelled or arrested and coaching careers are going in the dumper.

Sembritzki seemed to send a warning shot for all coaches and athletes when he said “Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. We’re not bulletproof, but I haven’t heard of anything like this at our school. But with social media the way it is and every kid having a cell phone, you can bet that everything that happens, good or bad, will get posted.”

John Murphy can be reached at 583-2413 or jmurphy@hanfordsentinel.com.

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