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Ten girls suspended in Needham hazing incident

Posted by Your Town  November 11, 2010 07:08 PM

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Two parents of Needham High School students said about 10 girls on Needham's soccer team were suspended from school and 12 or 13 were prevented from playing in a district tournament game against Brockton after a hazing incident late last month.

The parents, providing new details of an incident that has sparked controversy in the town and around the region, spoke on condition of anonymity to protect the identity of their children. School officials have declined to comment on the specifics of the 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 and to also block their suspensions. The judge refused, and the varsity team lost 7-1. They played without their coach and mainly with girls from the junior varsity team.

The new details surfaced as parents of the players continued to defend the students, saying the incident was harmless and the punishment too severe.

On the night of the alleged hazing incident, parents said today, several upperclassmen drove to the younger students’ homes and told them to put on blindfolds when the girls got into their cars.

Three parents 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 worst that happened, two parents said, was that one of their expensive boots was stained by the whipped cream, which the older girls ultimately replaced.

“The kids were misguided, and they shouldn’t have done what they did,” said Nick Bollas, the father of one 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.”

The hazing allegedly occurred on 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 them 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.’’

Today, 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 some college applications require students to say whether they have been disciplined, but he 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 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 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's a verdict about whether the punishment was appropriate.

Globe staff writers Matt Carroll and Erica Noonan and Globe correspondent Katrina Ballard contributed to this report.

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