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Don Mahler: Learning In Progress At Hanover

After Incident, Football Team Works on Recovery

It’s the way of the world in locker rooms. Survival of the fittest. The veterans rule and the new kids pay. It’s been going on since, well, forever.

It may not be right, certainly not politically correct, no longer condoned, but yet it’s something many athletes have gone through in their playing days. And something that continues today.

It ranges from something as innocuous as singing your school’s fight song in front of teammates, to sexual deviation that causes a team to shutter its season. And many other indiscretions — large and small — in between.

Some may call it simply a rite of passage; others see it as a dangerous and demeaning activity called hazing. It’s all part of the jock culture. And to believe it doesn’t exist is naive. According to InsideHazing.com, 1.5 million high school students are hazed each year.

It just so happened that an incident that may fall into that realm occurred in Hanover last month. An event described by Hanover High School Principal Justin Campbell as “egregiously inappropriate.” An incident that is currently being investigated by the police.

What has been reported is that at a football team gathering at the home of one of the players, skits took place, the theme of which was of a sexual nature that objectified women, school officials said. Team coaches were not in attendance, nor did they have any knowledge of the activity.

“This was a first for all of us,” said Athletic Director Mike Jackson, alluding to the inappropriate conduct that forced the cancellation of the homecoming football game. “In my 30 years of athletic administration, I’ve never had a team go through something like this before.

“But we know what has to be done.”

After canceling Friday’s game with Kearsarge, the Hanover administration met with the players and is in the process of developing teamwide activities to, as Jackson put it, “help learn the appropriate positive lesson growing out of some very inappropriate conduct.”

Dan Lebowitz, the executive director of Sport in Society at Northeastern University, agreed that these types of issues should not be taken lightly. While the Hanover situation may not have risen to the level of violence or bullying, there still is a problem that must be addressed.

“While it may seem relatively innocent, it creates a dynamic which puts one gender over another and that has an impact (on those involved),” Lebowitz said.

“It’s a hard world to grow up in. It’s hard to find the means to stop acts of rape, the demeaning of women or incidents of racism.

“You deal with it through educational programs, through an ongoing curriculum and ongoing conversations. Kids need to understand what’s right.”

They also need to know what’s wrong. Hazing, defined by HazingPrevention.org, is any action taken or situation created intentionally that causes embarrassment, harassment or ridicule; risks emotional and/or physical harm to members of a group or team whether new or not regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.

The activity is nothing new. Carl Wallin, who was the head coach of men’s and women’s field events at Dartmouth College for 40 years, acknowledges that “hazing” may have taken part on his teams at times.

“It’s gone on forever, as far as I’m concerned,” Wallin said. “Kids on the track team used to do it, but I don’t know what they did. A lot of times I’d find out about it a year or so later.”

According to Wallin, the Dartmouth administration finally had enough of the practice and let it be known it was to stop.

“They told us, and we told (the athletes),” said Wallin. “It was all just foolishness.”

Area athletic directors I contacted for this story were happy to add their perspectives, but leery of speaking on the record for fear of being painted with the hazing brush. The issue is that troubling.

The answer, according to one longtime athletic director, is education.

“We deal with the situations as they come up ... and it would be naive to believe that they don’t,” he said. “We try to educate the kids as much as we can — not only at the high school but in the middle school, too. Ideally, we would get into the youth level and work with the rec departments.

“People still don’t understand how (hazing) can make somebody feel.”

Still, things happen. One coach recalled a situation where players were found coercing others to use tobacco. They were suspended for five games.

When Jim Vanier was going to school in Lebanon, he remembers kids putting heat balm in other students’ jockstraps.

“That burned terrible,” he said. “But back then, there was no malice to those actions. It was just for fun.”

Harry Ladue offered the same recollection of his days in Windsor 40 years ago. “We didn’t pick on anybody; guys would just chase each other around in the locker room using the wet end of a towel to snap at each other.

“There was never really any specific target,” said Ladue, today the recreation director in Windsor and the Windsor High boys basketball coach. “The seniors didn’t really pick on freshmen, maybe forcing them to carry the bags, that’s all.”

Some situations are worse than others. Some 20 years ago, a number of Lebanon High football freshmen were humiliated by being taped to a chair in the shower and being urinated upon. That action by the upperclassmen set off a chain of events that ultimately ended with the coach's resignation.

In 1999 at the University of Vermont, the team’s hazing of freshmen men’s hockey players and its concerted coverup of those actions forced the school to cancel the remainder of the season, in what USA Today called “a stunning decision that ripped apart a team, a university and a community.”

It was reported that recruits to the team had been coerced into drinking large amounts of alcohol, parading naked while holding one another’s genitals and engaging in other degrading activities. The school decided to cancel the remainder of its season after learning that some players had lied during an investigation into a hazing scandal.

More recently, authorities investigated an alleged hazing incident by a Massachusetts high school football team at a New Hampshire summer camp in August.

According to reports in the Boston Globe and other media outlets, the alleged incident took place at Camp Robindel, when an estimated 100 underclassmen, under the supervision of about 10 coaches, spent three nights there, including Aug. 23, when the alleged incident occurred, according to police and the owner of the camp, Nat Greenfield. Officials say the players were at the camp for four days for what was supposed to be practice and bonding.

Chelmsford, Mass., Deputy Police Chief James Spinney said the alleged incident involved “unwanted contact.”

He said only one victim has been identified, and that person did not need medical attention after the incident. He said as many as six teammates are currently under investigation, allegedly for having physical contact with the victim.

“I really can’t elaborate. It’s not our investigation,” Spinney told the Globe. “But what we are talking about is some level of assault and battery; I am not at liberty to give any further information.’’

The investigation comes after three Somerville High School students were accused of raping a teammate with a broomstick at a preseason sports camp in Western Massachusetts, charges that have been denied by the attorney for one of the defendants.

High school sports is so important to small community identity that when a team stumbles, everyone feels the jolt. But a losing streak is one thing ... a hazing-type incident is quite another.

The issue isn’t severity; it’s civility.

And AD Jackson, along with Hanover football coach Mike Ivanoski, understand the need to quickly make amends and put the football program back on track.

“I’ve worked with the captains and with Mike (Ivanoski), and we’ve developed a plan to help the situation from within the football team,” said Jackson.

The team is planning a number of activities to help restore confidence in the program and camaraderie within the group.

A video on how to be a good teammate; how to treat each other respectfully, what are appropriate things to do and say and to respect the community is one activity the team is considering.

Also, as Jackson pointed out, it’s important to build a strong and positive relationship between the upper- and lowerclassmen.

“Right now the plan is to assign two upperclassmen to each ninth-grader — of which there are eight on the team — to act as mentors,” Jackson said. “We are developing a script to follow with direction of coaches.”

Another step is to set up a clinic of sorts for youth football kids. Not to do football stuff, but more, as Jackson described, to be part of discussions about what the program is all about; how to talk respectfully, how to make a commitment and what is appropriate action

“Moving forward, what I’m hoping for is what I already see happening — that the kids are moving in the right direction to learn the appropriate positive lesson growing out of some very inappropriate conduct,” Jackson said.

“We’re discussing how they represent themselves, their team and the school ... and how you don’t treat people, let alone your teammates. I’m pretty sure they’re getting it.”

At first, when they found out that the game was called off, the players were, according to Jackson, angry and upset. But a discussion led by the three captains — Teddy Geraghty, Noah Huizenga and Shawn Cavallaro — plus a talk from Ivanoski, helped clear the air and put the team in a better frame of mind and open to what needed to happen, according to Jackson.

Ivanoski explained that during Thursday’s practice.

“We understand that this about more than a football game. As the coaches, we see this is a teaching opportunity, and we are treating it as such,” Ivanoski said. “We are committed to focus on personal responsibility, respect and the awareness that all of our actions, on and off the field, need to communicate character and integrity.”

The healing has already begun. On Friday night, instead of playing football against Kearsarge, the football team planned to staff the concession stand for the homecoming field hockey game. The money raised will be turned over to WISE in Lebanon, a nonprofit organization that provides services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Don Mahler can be reached at dmahler@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.

CLARIFICATION

Long-time Lebanon High football coach Jim Jette stepped down after the 1994 season. A hazing incident involving Lebanon High football players occurred during the 1995 season and led his successor to resign. The column was unclear on the exact timing of the incident.

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