Clover reels from football hazing

School officials: Hazing will not be tolerated; status of 3 others linked to allegations uncertain

adys@heraldonline.comOctober 11, 2011 

— Hazing allegations involving younger Clover High School football players abused by upperclassmen led school officials Monday to kick 10 players off the team permanently.

The dismissal is the latest action in what Clover schools Superintendent Marc Sosne called "terribly disappointing behavior in our high school that has harmed the reputation of both the school and the community."

On Friday, 13 players were suspended from school for five days after police and district officials launched a dual investigation into assaults of three younger players. One player told police he had been threatened with sexual assault involving a broomstick.

No arrests have been made, but three detectives have been assigned to the case, and York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant vowed Monday to fully investigate the allegations and circumstances - regardless of football's importance to Clover's sense of community and pride.

The 10 players suspended Monday participated in the hazing, Sosne said, while the remaining three were not directly involved but were present when the hazing happened.

Blue Eagles football coach John Devine will decide as early as today if those three players will be allowed back on the team after school suspensions end late this week.

The hazing has sparked outrage from parents, who are demanding that school safety be reviewed. Clover has started reviewing safety plans, from security cameras to the duties of staff assigned to extracurricular activities such as football.

The hazing allegedly happened in the locker room.

"Clover has a rich tradition of closeness, of community," Sosne said Monday after announcing the suspensions. "It is known as a moral place, and this has tarnished that without question.

"We are examining and reviewing all regulations and supervisory procedures. We want to know if, in any way, this could have been prevented."

One of the mothers of the victims, whose son told police he was threatened with sexual assault, is demanding action by the schools.

Two other players told police of assaults, but they described it as "just routine hazing" in police reports.

The team, before a large home crowd Friday with remaining players bolstered by junior varsity call-ups, lost to Gaffney, 55-3.

Sheriff Bryant declined to discuss details of the investigation Monday but said football's significance in Clover is not a factor when it comes to determining whether young people were victims of a crime.

"Certain types of activities, actions, cannot be tolerated," Bryant said. "Bullying and hazing can't be allowed to happen."

Further, Bryant said, any actions taken by the school to suspend players from sports or school would have no effect on his office's investigation. Suspensions from school and potential criminal charges are not the same, he said.

"If there is a violent act at a school, we will handle it as what it is - a crime," Bryant said.

The hazing fallout has spread - from talk that Clover High Principal Mark Hopkins said was so widespread it disrupted school, to the potential for serious criminal charges - yet school officials have given few specifics other than that the allegations came from a teacher who overheard students talking about hazing.

Hopkins said Monday that swift investigative action was taken afterward, and police were called.

"We talked to all the people involved as quickly as we could," Hopkins said. "We immediately issued suspensions. Now, 10 of those suspensions are permanent."

Parents have a right to expect safety at schools, said state Rep. Tommy Pope, the Republican former prosecutor who represents the Clover area in the General Assembly. Determining the truth through the school's investigation and law enforcement is vital to determining what happened - and ensuring future safety.

"What happened - who did what and when - has to be determined," Pope said.

Former state Rep. Herb Kirsh - an icon in Clover, 32 years a state legislator and a former mayor of the town - always spends his Friday nights at Clover High School football games.

His memories include his own exploits 65 years ago on the field.

Kirsh, who lost to Pope in November 2010 and never minces words, put it best Monday after a weekend where the only talk about Clover included the words, "football, hazing, assault, and police."

The explanation from the superintendent that students admitted hazing had been going on for years makes the situation even worse, Kirsh said.

"This stuff, hazing, doesn't happen in Clover," he said. "Or it wasn't known. But now, we have everybody looking at Clover and wondering what we are about here.

"They better take care of it, is what I have to say about that."

Every parent should have an expectation that school is a safe place, Clover school board member and parent Sherri Ciurlik said Monday.

"Everybody is heartbroken and saddened by this," she said. "This is not the Clover people know and love."

Ciurlik declined to discuss specifics of the investigation. She said she has full confidence that the internal probe launched by the school administration will uncover what happened with the football team.

Further, she said, the administration will determine if there needs to be tighter controls over supervision of athletes - especially football players. Any decision to curtail the season because of what happened would be a school administration decision, she said, but she sees no reason for the entire team to be punished for the actions of a few.

School board chairman Franklin Pendleton, a lawyer, also declined to discuss the specifics of the investigation. Like Ciurlik, he said any decision to cancel the rest of the season would seem like "overkill."

The school district has not made any plans to cancel games or sanction staff, said Sosne, the superintendent. He said Clover's security and athletics supervisory system will be reviewed independently by principal Hopkins and associate superintendent Sheila Huckabee.

"There will be no stone left unturned in looking at what happened and how to prevent this from ever happening again," Sosne said.

The school board just last year amended its policies on bullying - students can face punishment up to expulsion, and school staff can be fired if they fail to report it.

Hopkins said he has not ruled out harsher punishments for the students who have been suspended.

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