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Details of alleged hazing emerge

3 parents recount events, say girls’ actions were in good fun

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By David Abel
Globe Staff / November 12, 2010

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On the night a group of girls were allegedly hazed by their teammates on the Needham High soccer team, several upperclassmen drove to the younger students’ homes and told them to put on blindfolds when the girls got into their cars, parents of the students said yesterday.

Three parents, providing new details in separate interviews, said the seniors drove the girls around for a short time until they arrived at a field off school grounds where the team practices. They said the girls were told to remove their blindfolds on the field and were taunted. At least one was told to wear a dog collar and two were hit in the face with whipped cream pies. Others were made to sing songs or sing the praises of the seniors.

But each of the parents interviewed insisted that the episode was all in fun, a team-building exercise that might have gone too far but didn’t leave any of their girls harmed.

“The kids were misguided, and they shouldn’t have done what they did,’’ said Nick Bollas, the father of a freshman on the team. “But the penalty didn’t fit what happened. These kids do not deserve to be penalized for this. These girls are all best friends, and my daughter came home and she was in a good mood.’’

Other new details surfaced yesterday as well. Two other parents said 10 girls on the team were suspended from school and 12 or 13 were prevented from playing in a district tournament game against Brockton.

The parents spoke on condition of anonymity to protect the identity of their children. School officials declined to comment yesterday on the specifics of the Needham punishment.

The suspension of the girls before Tuesday’s state tournament game outraged parents so much that some asked a judge to allow their children to play in the game against Brockton and to block their suspensions. The judge refused; the varsity team lost 7-1.

The hazing allegedly occurred Oct. 29, after the team had won a share of the Bay State Conference, Carey Division title, according to documents filed Monday in Norfolk Superior Court.

It wasn’t until a week later that parents of the players received an e-mail from Needham High’s principal, Jonathan D. Pizzi, banning the girls from meeting over the weekend to practice, according to court papers. The e-mail, sent last Friday, said administrators were investigating “an alleged incident of serious misbehavior.’’

Yesterday, Needham school superintendent Dan Gutekanst continued to defend the administration’s response and would not comment on the potential consequences of the suspensions. He acknowledged that some college applications require students to say whether they have been disciplined, and said there is usually a space to explain what happened.

“I would hope that all Needham High School students have a great chance of getting into college, and I certainly hope that’s the case for all of our seniors,’’ Gutekanst said.

He expects that some of the students will appeal their suspensions and hopes to resolve those appeals within the next week. He said none of the girls, as far as he knew, have begun serving their suspensions.

“I think it’s important that we move on, and that we help all the girls get back on track and focus on the schoolwork that’s ahead,’’ he said. “Students make mistakes, and we try to help them overcome their mistakes, and they end up doing some pretty wonderful things. I certainly hope that’s the case for these students.’’

The parents interviewed yesterday said 10 of the girls were suspended for between two to five days. Many of the girls, they said, will continue attending school until there is a verdict about whether the punishment was appropriate.

In letters sent to Pizzi that were included in the court records, Lisa and Craig Newfield, parents of one of the girls, urged him to reconsider.

“The incident was misguided, but no real harm was done,’’ they wrote. The girls’ “sentiment and ours is: It happened; it’s over; let’s move on. [Our daughter] was not hurt by the events and continues to respect the seniors and feels like a respected member of the team. . . . Please do not make the situation worse and teach the wrong lessons.’’

Mark and Carol Oberle acknowledged the seniors’ “lapse in judgment’’ but also called on Pizzi to reduce the punishment.

“There is nothing [our daughter] would like to do more now than ‘move on’ and continue to do fun things with her teammates,’’ they wrote. “[Our daughter] has positive feelings and respect for ALL of her teammates — seniors, juniors, sophomores, and freshmen. More importantly, she feels very much a part of the team and genuinely respected by ALL of her teammates.’’

Needham police officials were investigating the incident but several parents said they doubted that any charges would be filed.

The state’s antihazing law applies to secondary schools and carries a penalty of up to a year in prison and a $3,000 fine.

Bollas and the other parents said the episode lasted only for about 20 minutes and that afterward the girls attended the high school football game together.

If some of the freshmen were annoyed by what happened, he and the other parents interviewed insisted that the girls addressed their feelings and that they were over it.

In the Oberles’ letter, the couple noted that the girls seemed to play better than ever in a game following the incident. They described the game as “a thing of beauty to watch.’’

“They were all having more genuine fun than any other game in the season,’’ they wrote. “That was not a coincidence and would not have happened if there were any lingering issues or animosity.’’

Matt Carroll and Erica Noonan of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Katrina Ballard contributed to this report. David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.

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