Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

February 12, 2009

Schools Investigating Sexual ‘Hazing’ At Junior High

Adam Huening

The saying goes “boys will be boys” but some student athletes at the Greensburg Junior High School may have taken their pranks too far.

The Greensburg Daily News learned that at some point early in the junior high basketball season, members of the boys’ team engaged in some locker room hijinks that escalated into inappropriate behavior.

Greensburg School Superintendent Tom Hunter and School Resource Officer Bruce Copple confirmed an investigation has been launched into an incident in which members of the basketball team allegedly physically restrained other team members while others sat on them, either clothed in undergarments or nude, and slapped the restrained players in the face with their genitalia.

Both Hunter and Copple conceded the incident likely took place before Christmas, but the corporation had only learned of the incident a few weeks ago after a staff member overheard a conversation and a student reluctantly came forward.

Although no formal complaint has been lodged with the corporation, Copple said an investigation was launched immediately and all the student athletes were summoned for a meeting with principal Dr. Rodney King, school athletic director David Strause and Copple.

“We met with every athlete and told them what would happen,” Copple said.

Hunter passed down the message to the students, he said, that this behavior would not be accepted.

“It’s locker room hijinks. It’s harassment. It’s hazing, but we’re not going to tolerate it. We made it clear this isn’t going to happen,” Hunter said.

Further incidents, he noted, would be met by a stiff punishment, including expulsion and a ban from ever participating in Greensburg athletics.

While the punishment for further incidents has been spelled out to the students, Copple said the administration has not closed the case on this.

“The book is wide open,” he said.

However, deciphering what happened and who is responsible has proved to be a tough task. He said “90 percent” of the things that have happened in the locker rooms are adolescent hijinks. However, this “extremely isolated incident” has been problematic because of the seemingly widespread nature of involvement, Copple said, and has proved personally trying for the long-time lawman. He noted in these instances, one wants a quick resolution and this incident seems to have no end in sight.

“I’m personally struggling with this because I can’t get that closure. This isn’t Johnny hit Susie. It’s not that simple. It’s big, not in the sense that it’s a widespread problem, but because so many kids knew about it, saw it, heard it or were involved with it,” Copple said.

Multiple stories and finger-pointing has bogged down the investigation, Hunter said, and Copple added much of the difficulty has come from cracking the code of adolescent silence in the face of such a serious situation.

“I can understand how a child, especially in the athletic realm, can struggle with this. They don’t want to tell on their friends or their teammates,” Copple said.

Students might fear retribution, he noted, for breaking that code. While no criminal charges are being sought, he said it could come to that, which would mean the student who told would have to reveal himself in open court if brought to testify.

Copple said he has spoken with a number of students and their parents and will continue to do so until he is satisfied with the outcome. However, he noted parents and students with information need to step forward to ensure the proper action is taken on the students perpetrating the alleged actions as well as proactive measures to prevent future ones.

Hunter said he was frustrated by that point. No one has filed a complaint, and while they will continue to work it as an internal matter, he said that would be necessary to take the investigation up a notch.

However, Hunter noted, these things happen in athletics and while he does not condone these actions at all, he feels the incident may be blown out of proportion because of the lingering silence.

“Boys won’t be personally damaged (by this),” he said. “If (the victims) were so emotionally affected, then why has it taken so long for us to find out?”

Until the matter is settled and both Copple and Hunter are satisfied, no disciplinary action will be taken against the potentially offending students. Hunter noted with the incident seemingly so widespread throughout the basketball program its hard to single anyone out.

“I’m not crucifying one kid for something others are doing,” Hunter said.

While the school works on the investigation, preventative measures have been put in place. Coaches have been informed, Copple said, and they are not to let any player out of their sight. As a former junior high principal, Hunter said he understands the nature of these adolescents and supervision must be a top priority for all staff at the school.

“When you are dealing with kids at this age you have to always watch them, but they always find a few moments to do something,” Hunter said.

Copple also feels somewhat distressed by the fact that students are staying silent. This year, he and junior high staff initiated a bully prevention program, which carries open door and zero tolerance policies. One of the main things for kids who feel like they are getting bullied or for those who witness the acts is to come forward and tell a school official.

“What we need, what any school needs if a student is being bullied, we need information,” Copple said. “It bothers me that somebody saw this and didn’t say ‘This is wrong,’ and didn’t step forward.”

Copple said any student or parent with information regarding the incident is welcome to contact himself or Dr. King at the junior high. His hope is to find closure and use the incident to ensure this type of situation never arises in the locker rooms or anywhere else within Greensburg schools.

“We can’t take away what has happened, but we are being proactive in the hope that you can make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Copple said.