Enquirer Herald

Clover hazing victim's mother wants harsh punishment for assault

The mother of a 17-year-old Clover High School football player victimized in what police reports describe as "assaults" said Saturday she wants better safety at school.

The mother's demands for action come as the Clover schools superintendent said Saturday the district will continue to react decisively and strongly to make sure the high school is safe. Superintendent Marc Sosne acknowledged they are investigating "unacceptable" hazing that dates back years.

Clover schools suspended 13 varsity football players Friday after the allegations of hazing assaults against three younger players reached school administrators and prompted a two-pronged reaction - suspensions and a police investigation.

Yelanda McCray, in an exclusive interview with The Herald at her home Saturday, said her son told police that he was held down by older football players who threatened to sexually assault him with a broom stick.

Further, McCray said, she was told by police that hazing, or initiation, has now been found to have been a part of the football culture in Clover for several years but had never reached the serious nature of a crime where police had to be called.

Sosne confirmed that police are investigating the threat of a sexual assault allegations.

McCray said she learned of the incident Thursday when she came returned from work and found two police cars at her house. Detectives interviewed both of her sons, she said. Her older son, an 11th-grader who plays football, was one of three Clover football players who told police of being victims of assault.

McCray said her son is reluctant to go back to school and feels shunned by classmates because there is a perception - after the story broke and the school was talking about it Thursday and Friday - that her son told on his fellow players.

McCray said school officials told her the investigation was started after a teacher overheard older players "gloating" over what they did.

"Other students are under the impression that he is a snitch, when it is clear he did not tell anyone, and he clearly is the victim here, anyway," McCray said. "My understanding is kids were boasting around school."

McCray demanded answers from the school district about the status of its internal review and safety procedures after the revelations.

"I talked to the principal, and he assured me that my son was safe at school, but my son does not feel safe at all," McCray said. "Now he does not want to go back to school."

Police reports made available Saturday show that officers responded Thursday to the allegations of the assaults against McCray's son that occurred in September. Two other police reports show that the other victims, ages 14 and 15, told police Friday morning at the school that each had been assaulted by older, varsity players in September.

Both of these victims told police what happened to them was "just routine hazing," according to the reports.

All cases are described in police reports as plural; "assault offenses."

McCray said she spoke to the parents of both other victims, and like her, all are upset that their children were victims at school while under the care of school and athletic employees. McCray said she has concerns about safety at the school and whether there is proper supervision, after she was told that hazing has happened before.

"A line has been crossed here; this was not any hazing or initiation," McCray said. "My son was threatened."

Clover High School, on S.C. 55, is outside the town limits of Clover. The school is under the jurisdiction of the York County Sheriff's Office. Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Mike Baker said Saturday the investigation continues but declined to offer any details on what might happen next, or when.

The law enforcement investigation into whether a crime was committed, and an investigation into the hazing culture and history at Clover, are separate and distinct.

Clover schools policy posted on its website states that bullying is prohibited, and any case of bullying must be reported by any school personnel. The district's mission statement also states that the schools must provide a safe environment for students.

Although the 13 players were suspended from school and athletics, it remains unclear how long those suspensions will last. The school district has declined to name the students suspended.

It also remains unclear what investigative focus the school administration will put on the school's athletics and football programs. Asked if she feels let down by school officials in charge of safety, McCray said, "pretty much, yes."

The district's bullying policy that was updated by the school board in 2010 states that any failure to report bullying could result in disciplinary action up to termination.

Sosne said Saturday that parents have every right to expect schools to be safe for children and that schools administration will not tolerate behavior that is bullying or hazing.

Further, the district is looking into its supervision in athletics, as well as other measures to ensure that the problem is halted immediately.

"It is my intention that this never happens again," Sosne said Saturday.

Sosne said Clover administrators started investigating the hazing allegations early in the week, after first-year football coach John Devine, who teaches weightlifting classes at the high school, found out. A substitute teacher who had worked for Devine told him what was heard in the class, Sosne said, then Devine confronted his team.

No one admitted hazing initially, so the coach ordered calisthenics and running for his players. He reported it to the administration, Sosne said.

An investigation by administrators uncovered hazing that dated back years that was admitted by upperclassmen, Sosne said. The football coach and principal suspended the players from sports.

"They kept it a secret," Sosne said. "Not anymore. We began to realize (after the investigation started) this was a more significant problem. The coach made it clear those players would not play."

Administrators immediately acted with school suspensions and called police, who sent three detectives to the school, Sosne said.

Clover parents need to be reassured that school officials acted quickly and thoroughly after allegations of hazing came out, and the investigation will be complete and thorough, Sosne said.

Playing with a depleted roster buttressed by junior varsity players, Clover's football team was throttled at home by Gaffney on Friday night, 55-3.

Sosne said the outcome of a football game is not the issue - the safety of students is far more important.

"This community is upset, but we will not have this kind of behavior at Clover," Sosne said Saturday.

Clover school board vice-chairman Mack McCarter declined to comment Saturday. Jack Grier, another school board member and longtime football booster in Clover, said he expects the school administration to fully investigate, but declined to comment further.

Clover school board member Joe Gordon, the former Clover High School principal and assistant superintendent and father-in-law of current principal Mark Hopkins, said Saturday that safety is and must be a top priority at the high school. Gordon said he did not know details of the investigation, but had been advised during the week that there were allegations of hazing and bullying at the school that were being investigated.

Gordon conceded the incident is "not a pleasant thing" for parents, and bullying and hazing cannot be tolerated. Parents can be assured, Gordon said, that the schools investigation into the incident will be complete.

"Sometimes kids do stupid things," Gordon said. "If lines have been crossed, consequences will be stiff."

Clover's bullying policy states that students guilty of bullying face disciplinary action up to expulsion.

Clover High Principal Mark Hopkins said Friday that he takes responsibility for making sure bullying does not happen, and the fallout of consequences from the incidents may not be over.

McCray, who moved to Clover six years ago from Detroit to give her sons a safer environment to grow up in and better opportunities for a top-level education, said suspension of the students is not enough: As the police investigation continues, she wants the culprits expelled from school.

"My top priority in my life is my kids," McCray said. "Their safety and their education. I want answers."