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Hazing may cause cancellation of Thanksgiving football game

Coaches on leave, players suspended

By Christopher J. Girard
Globe Correspondent / November 21, 2010

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The Agawam public schools superintendent said yesterday she is considering canceling the Thanksgiving Day game against West Springfield after last week’s hazing at school involving the football team.

Four students were suspended and four coaches were placed on paid administrative leave after the hazing, which took place late Wednesday afternoon in the locker room after practice, Superintendent Mary A. Czajkowski said in an interview.

Czajkowski said officials believe seven players were targets of the hazing, although that number could change. No one was reported injured.

The four players were suspended for 10 days and will miss the Thanksgiving game. More suspensions may come, Czajkowski said.

The four coaches, including the head coach, are on paid administrative leave pending the results of an investigation, Czajkowski said.

She added that she did not yet know whether the coaches were present when the hazing occurred.

“At the beginning of every season, coaches are required to verbally communicate the hazing policy to players,’’ Czajkowski said. “It’s written in the student handbook. The hazing policy is posted in all our locker rooms. They know what hazing is.’’

Czajkowski declined to provide details of what happened, saying that school officials and police are investigating.

She said she will decide tomorrow whether further disciplinary action is needed for students and coaches, and whether the team will play on Thanksgiving Day.

No game was scheduled for this weekend, Czajkowski said.

“When a crime is committed, I need to enforce the law,’’ she said. “It’s an unfortunate situation, not just for our students but for our high school.’’

Practice has been canceled since last Wednesday and may not be held tomorrow, Czajkowski said.

The head coach of the West Springfield football team, Chad LaBonte, said he doesn’t know any details about the case but a lot of people will be disappointed if the game is canceled.

“This is something they look forward to their whole life,” he said.

The case came to the attention of school authorities after a parent of one of the targeted students notified school officials, who alerted police and the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, Czajkowski said.

The principal interviewed members of the football team and more interviews will be conducted, Czajkowski said.

“We’re trying to gather the most accurate information we have, not the rumors,’’ she said.

School Committee member Linda Galarneau said she knew of no previous hazings during her 22-year tenure.

“I think someone would have to be very naive to think this kind of thing doesn’t happen, but everyone involved needs to be held accountable,’’ she said.

“We’re shocked about it,’’ said School Committee member Shelley Reed. “When you play football, you’re on a team. We’re not going to tolerate it.’’

Agawam police said no one was available to comment on the matter yesterday.

The suspended seniors will miss the last football game of their high school careers Thursday, but Czajkowski said she needs to protect all students.

“We are entrusted with the safety of these students,’’ she said.

“That’s our duty, our obligation, to secure their safety. If they wanted to play, that’s something they should have thought about.’’

Christopher J. Girard can be reached at cgirard@globe.com.