"Typical high schoolers," I keep hearing. "They’re just teenagers," is another. Or, "they did no real harm to themselves or others."
True, true and true again. But rules have been broken and there’s no denying that.
On Tuesday, when it was reported that five players on the girls’ soccer team at Needham high school were being suspended amid allegations of hazing, there were ready-made acknowledgments of wrongdoing -- and full-blown denials of malice. But lost in the hoopla of all this Needham acrimony is the standard response of the parents of these wrongdoers. (And in some cases, their grandparents.)
When Todd D. White, a lawyer and parent of one of the girls on the soccer team, filed a restraining order with Norfolk Superior Court against Jonathan D. Pizzi, Needham High’s principal, and Micah Hauben, athletic director at the school, it struck me that these type of situations fall in very simple patterns.
In 2008, there was an incident in which a high school girls' basketball team in Grass Valley, Calif., had its season curtailed after 10 of its 11 members were at an off-campus party in which underage drinking had occurred. Parents of the players argued that the students shouldn’t be punished because it was off campus. They argued that 30 days, which was the duration for suspensions for alcohol-related incidents, was too severe. The parents didn’t want to have any punishment kill their kids’ season.
No one denied wrongdoing. And no one denied their presence at the party, save for the lone soul who couldn’t go. But lo and behold, despite an athletic contract that forbade alcohol consumption in season and first-hand accounts (MySpace pictures, no less) of the activity, the parents of the players banded together to “save their season.” A petition was filed with the school district’s superintendent. A lawsuit was also discussed.
These things usually aren’t so cut and dried. There are parents that are for the punishment, in this case suspensions, and there are parents that are wholly against it. I see no reason to besmirch that kind of disagreement. But in every case that I’ve encountered while researching the issue, there is never any acceptance of punishment without petition. And it’s always the doings of the parents who claim they’re going to bat for their children.
There is no athletic director or power-crazy principal in the world, let alone in sports-crazed Massachusetts, that is out to ruin the lives of these children. As these things typically go, the athletic director does everything in his or her power to make sure the students are getting a fair shake. One can only imagine the choices Hauben and Pizzi were given after the evidence of alleged hazing, true or not, was provided to them. In that sense, there’s no denying that action needed to be taken either.
For the parents, this is more of an issue of singling out their children while watching third-party parenting get meted out. It’s not comfortable. But it’s something that should be accepted for the benefit of the kids.
As parochial as it may sound, lessons need to be learned and statements need to be made. Having a freshman soccer player blindfolded and walk around in a dog leash isn’t practice for adulthood. Trying to explain its usefulness isn’t very adult-like either.
Trying to defend it, whether on the basis of its actual punishment or the act in itself as some parents have done, is not above reproach. As sample, unscientific poll on Boston.com has shown readers overwhelmingly agree that the punishment these Needham girls received was appropriate.
One administrator said it best when speaking to the Globe yesterday.
"These events have to be handled firmly and directly,’’ said Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. “It’s not just the students directly involved; it’s the whole culture of the school. Everyone is watching how the adults are going to respond, and if the adults don’t send a message with some degree of severity, it’s as if they’re condoning it.’’
One could argue that these student-athletes would more likely, or more easily, understand the basis of the rules against hazing, and any derivative thereof, if both parents and administrators could agree upon them. But I’m hard-pressed to believe that the parents in Needham and the student-athletes weren’t made aware of any rules or regulations as far as personal conduct prior to the season. Surely they were given a rule book? A waiver to sign?
As far as I know, the rules have never changed mid-game. And neither have the punishments. Even if they’re typical high schoolers. Or typical parents.
Several reporters and editors contribute updates, news and analysis to the High School Sports Blog.
- Bob Holmes: A Reading resident (Go Rockets!) and Boston College graduate, Holmes is the Boston Globe High School Sports Editor. We remind you now that his weekly picks are often made in jest so everyone just calm down when he picks against Everett for 11 straight weeks. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHolmes.
- Craig Larson: A native of West Springfield (Leo Durocher anyone? Tim Daggett?) and Curry College graduate (a proud Colonel!), Larson is the sports editor for the Globe's regional sections: South, West and North, as well as a frequent contributor on the college beat. Abington to Xaverian: it all starts with the schools. Have a compelling story idea? Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeLars.
- Zuri Berry: Berry attended the same high school as sports legends O.J. Simpson and Joe DiMaggio. (Guess which one is his hero.) He's a South Boston resident (formerly of Eastie) and the editor of the High School Sports blog as well as the go-to-guy for everything high school sports on Boston.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @GlobeSchools for all of the latest updates.
Then there are our winter correspondents:
- Emily McCarthy | @EmilyMcCahthy | BPS correspondent
- Jake Fischer | @GlobeFischer | Boys basketball
- Michelle Fenelon | @michfenelon | Girls basketball
- Andrew MacDougall | @Andy_MacDougall | Boys hockey
- Liz Torres | @etorres446 | Girls hockey
To reach the high school sports department, e-mail email@example.com.