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Clover officials assure parents school is safe

No football players were suspended from school Wednesday in Clover over hazing.

Detectives with enough notebooks and pens and handcuffs hanging from their belts to cause a panic did not pull kids from class.

School went on as normal - if there is a normal in Clover this week. Hazing ruined normal in Clover.

Hazing, its schools superintendent said Wednesday, has "devastated" Clover. Hazing forced Clover to cancel junior varsity football for the rest of the autumn, when football is supposed to be played in the cold clear nights of youth and the only thing that matters after the game is if your momma and the girls saw you try your best.

Junior varsity is where younger, smaller kids are supposed to learn blocking and tackling, sportsmanship and love for teammates.

Junior varsity is where three kids were allegedly assaulted by varsity players. One victim who did not tell anybody of hazing until older players involved ran their mouths about it, a gutsy kid, now has no team to go back to.

Hazing scored. Clover did not.

Clover parents remain upset and are demanding action.

The hazing scandal that the Clover schools superintendent admits is "terrible" continues to be investigated by police detectives and has drawn the ire of parents who want to know what happened, why and what the schools will do about it.

Parents, community leaders, politicians, even gas station attendants are upset and angry and embarrassed by the hazing allegations that so far have led to 13 players being suspended from school, said Marc Sosne, Clover schools superintendent, Wednesday afternoon.

As it should be. A school is as good as parents and taxpayers who pay for schools demand. A school is as tough as parents demand. Football is called an extra-curricular because it is extra.

Life does not require a bench press or shoulder pads.

Parents in Clover are demanding that whatever happened with the hazing of younger football players by older players, acts that could result in criminal charges, be uncovered and punishments meted out.

Nobody with an eye on kids achieving in real life, having a shot at college and more, is concerned about high school football ticket sales, or other such nonsense related to football wins and losses and its place in the community this week.

Clover's reputation as either a place that accepts hazing - or not - is on the line here.

Sosne put it bluntly Wednesday: "We hope this community continues to put its confidence in us that we have a safe place to teach kids. We work hard to do it. We will continue to work hard."

There is no other team on the scoreboard. Clover alone will win or lose against hazing.

Sosne acknowledged that "almost unanimously, parents who have spoken out are supporting what we have done" in suspending the players involved.

He said parents have demanded that the district act "directly and assertively" with the hazing that has rocked the school and put Clover under duress not seen in years - maybe ever.

The high school and district kicked 10 of those 13 players off the team for their alleged involvement in hazing. The three who did not report the hazing after seeing it are not permanently barred but likely won't play again this season.

And the school district has issued, in jock talk, a blitz in trying to find out how deep the hazing culture ran in past years.

Some of the players involved told administrators who confronted the team about hazing that it had been going on for years. School officials were blindsided - nobody had ever heard of hazing, or admitted that they had.

Yet hazing apparently became so accepted this year, talk of it was so widespread last week in school classrooms and hallways, within earshot of adults, that the principal acknowledged that school was being disrupted and administrators had to act.

The school has since instituted stricter safety and oversight measures.

"We, the district, have called past coaches, past players, trying to find out what the truth is," Sosne said. "We don't have confirmation right now from anyone that they knew of past hazing, or that past hazing happened. But we have rumors of it.

"We will keep trying to find out. People deserve to know. It is clear the whole community has been devastated by this."

Jay Dover, 27, has been a town councilman in Clover since his teen years after he graduated from Clover High. He became an elected official at the same age as some of the kids involved in hazing.

Dover said he was not aware of any hazing in sports when he was in school and played soccer. Dover knew the football players, too, and heard of no hazing.

But Dover has heard about hazing this week in Clover. It is talked about almost everywhere.

Staff members allegedly overheard older players boasting about hazing and began the investigation that left the football team without many of its older players.

The first-year coach, John Devine, has said that he immediately acted after hearing of the hazing, including reporting it to the principal.

The principal told the resource officer, the cop at the school during the day, and the detectives showed up soon thereafter with enough paper and ink to write down all the statements of everybody who claimed to know anything about hazing.

Sosne confirmed he has met with several families of students involved in the hazing but did not provide details on what was said. He also declined to say which families of the 13 players suspended, or of the three players victimized, have talked to him.

One person who sure wants to know how long hazing has been going on is the mother of one of the three younger players who told police of being assaulted.

Yelanda McCray said Wednesday her son has not gone back to school, and she has scheduled a meeting with top administrators to determine if the school is safe for her son. She said police investigating the case told her that students they interviewed told them about allegations of hazing in previous years.

"I want reassurances, as any parent would," McCray said Wednesday.

Further, her son, who played on the junior varsity, would like to go back to playing football, too. But the fallout from hazing is so bad that the junior varsity football team he played on will play no more games this year.

The school had to send its 10th graders to the varsity last week to help fill out the roster after the suspensions, while at the same time dealing with a flu bug and injuries that left other junior varsity players unable to suit up. Last week's game was canceled.

Now the season for the JVs is scrapped. The ninth-grade team remains intact, school officials say, and will play against kids from Spartanburg just like themselves - smaller, younger ninth graders - tonight at home.

At 5:30 p.m., what sports is supposed to be, competition among peers, caring for your teammate, reaching for excellence after practicing so hard, finding reserves of energy and guts unknown beforehand, waving to your parents, will happen at Clover.

A kid 14 years old will score a touchdown and he will remember it forever. The scoreboard will light up. Parents will cheer and scream, "That's my son!"

People will yell, "Hooray, Clover!" and mean it.

Those remaining 10th graders from the junior varsity, younger and smaller and less skilled than varsity players - the reason those players are on JV to begin with - will suit up with the Clover Blue Eagles varsity again Friday.

These kids will be playing against a few Spartanburg behemoths, older, larger, tougher players from a team that is 7-1 - players just months from signing to play for Clemson or South Carolina or some other football-factory college.

Last week those kids, many of them younger and smaller, who did not haze others, gallantly played powerful and undefeated Gaffney.

Clover scored 3 points. Gaffney scored 55.

But the fallout from hazing hasn't finished in Clover. Sosne said the police investigation could reach a conclusion by Friday.

And when it does, he said, school administrators will address the public again over hazing - and how Clover demands it never happen again.

The mother of one teen who reported being assaulted said police have talked to her family several times.

Police are continuing to review the case but have not finished investigating, said York County Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Mike Baker.

Sosne, the superintendent, is asking parents to stick with Clover schools. A few students made bad choices, he said, and those students were disciplined.

Hazing is over, he said, and school is safe.

But the police decision looms and Clover and its schools are preparing to be in the spotlight at least once more. Hazing is not quite done hurting people in Clover.

Of the three kids allegedly assaulted, two told police it was "just routine hazing," according to police reports. Maybe accepting being hazed became routine in Clover, if a kid wanted to play football.

That is the score nobody cheers for.

And now there is no junior varsity football, at all. No joy or place for parents to cheer for success, in a tiny crowd of a few dozen. Hazing stole that from the kids, the parents, the cheerleaders.

People who think this hazing in Clover is about sports are blind. The police have no scoreboards to see, or ticket proceeds to count.

When the tally is counted, everybody involved with this hazing will have lost.