DODDS-Pacific officials working to prevent hazing
Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific officials say they’re working to prevent high school athletic hazing from becoming the issue in the Pacific it has in the States.
Three students from Mepham High School in Bellmore, N.Y. face charges in Wayne County, Pa. They’re accused of sexually penetrating three freshmen players with broomsticks, golf balls and pinecones during an August preseason training camp. Wayne County’s district attorney says he’ll seek to try the three as adults. Mepham chose to cancel its 2003 football season.
Such hazing, “to put it mildly ... puts the students’ physical and mental health at risk,” said Don Hobbs, DODDS-Pacific’s Far East Activities Council chief. He said he plans to seek an anti-hazing policy during the council’s November meeting on Okinawa.
Rituals, traditions and initiations long have been part of building team unity, including at DODDS schools in the Pacific and Europe, officials acknowledged. But when the pranks become mean-spirited hazing, they said — particularly inflicted on the reluctant — the line is crossed.
“It has no place in school,” said DODDS-Japan district superintendent Bruce Derr, who oversees a Japan League of six schools that compete in a variety of sports, often traveling long distances from base to base.
“We’re looking critically at any misbehavior on long-distance trips,” Derr said. There were “some incidents” in the past year, he said, but declined to provide details.
“There’s always somebody who forgets the reason why we’re there,” Derr said. “I hope we’re being proactive in preventing those from happening: Make sure the coaches know the rules, convey those to students and take those on their best behavior on trips. Otherwise, they don’t need to be there.”
An incident occurred in March 2002 at Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station, during a Japan League soccer series between the Matthew C. Perry Samurai and visiting Robert D. Edgren Eagles.
At about 1 a.m. in a dormitory room, a handful of Eagles players forcibly shaved the head of a reluctant teammate, according to several subsequent accounts. As a result, five players were suspended from school and the team was forced to forfeit two games the following week to Nile C. Kinnick.
Should such things happen in the future, Derr said he wants “swift, strict discipline. ... The player is off the team, he can’t travel, no awards, no letters. ... I don’t want to come into work on Monday to find out there was misbehavior.”
Michael Johnson, then Perry assistant principal and now Edgren’s principal, quickly contacted and questioned all involved the following Monday and took “appropriate action,” he said. “If you wait 24 hours, the trail goes cold.”
Joel Chalmers, a goalkeeper on that team who now is an assistant coach at St. John’s school on Guam, said he didn’t take part but saw the incident and regretted it. The team’s coach, John Parker, had checked to ensure the players were in bed around their 10:30 p.m. curfew, Chalmers said, but “at times, no matter what a coach does, the players will still do whatever they had planned.”
If the same thing happened today, he said, “Of course, I would try to stop it.”
Chalmers called the week-long sanction and forfeiture of games “justified. We were just happy they didn’t get kicked off the team,” he said, referring to the suspended players.
The best measures are preventative, Johnson said: setting and following ground rules even before tryouts begin. When coaching at Zwiebrucken, Germany, in 1992, he said, he learned “swirling,” in which new players’ heads were dunked in a flushed toilet, was a previous practice. “I said that if I hear about this, there are 12 players on the jayvee who want to play varsity ball. If you do this, your season is over.”
The main victims, Johnson said, are the team’s so-called “lesser people.”
“If you’re the geek, the 5-foot-7 right guard who couldn’t push his grandmother off a rocking chair, you’re going to get it twice as bad because of the tendency to pick on people.”
Some coaches, brought up where such activity was accepted, simply may turn the other cheek, said DODDS-Korea district superintendent Dr. Bruce Jeter. “They just let it go, kind of like a rite of passage” — but “unless you intervene, it will continue.”
At least one coach in Japan feels his team’s rituals accomplish a valid purpose. Tim Pujol coaches a Yokota Air Base soccer team whose players cut their hair Mohawk-style for the Far East Class AA Soccer Tournament in May 2002. The next spring, they — and Pujol — dyed their hair blond. They finished second both times.
“I did that perhaps against my better judgment,” said Pujol, who still sports the blond hairdo. “My kids put it to me in a playful way. There was no pressure. ‘C’mon, everybody’s doing it. Why don’t you be a team player?’ they told me.
“They were teasing me with my own words. Maybe it was silly for me as a coach and as an adult. But nobody was forced to do it.”
“A lot of times,” Jeter said, “kids ... don’t understand the difference between initiations and hazing.” While some stunts that help team-building, such as the Yokota mohawks, are acceptable, he said, “if you force it on someone, then you’ve overstepped your boundaries.”