Three senior football players from Conestoga (Pa.) High School were charged Friday with assault in connection to an alleged hazing incident that involved penetrating a freshman teammate’s rectum with a broom handle.
Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan claimed the alleged incident was part of a ritual which the team called “No Gay Thursday,” according to Michael Rubinkam of the Associated Press, “in which behavior the team normally considered to be ‘gay’ was considered ‘not gay’ on Thursdays.” On the day of the alleged attack, underclassmen were reportedly ordered to strip down to their underwear and clean the team’s locker room, but when the 14-year-old victim “wanted no further part of it and tried to leave the locker room, he was blocked, held down, and attacked,” according to Rubinkam.
“It just happened to be a perfect storm of this ‘No Gay Thursday’ tradition and them not liking this freshman and taking it out on him in a pretty horrible way,” Hogan told the AP.
Tredyffrin/Easttown Superintendent Richard Gusick released a statement Friday after Hogan announced the charges, announcing the district’s intention to “conduct a thorough school-based investigation.” Head football coach John Vogan has been suspended from all coaching duties, pending the outcome of the investigation, Gusick announced.
According to Michaelle Bond of Philly.com, the three seniors, who were all 17 at the time of the alleged attack last October, were charged as juveniles with assault, unlawful restraint, making terroristic threats, and related offenses. Hogan explained they weren’t charged with a sexual offense because “from our perspective, it’s a physical assault and not a sex crime.” Bond reported the decision not to charge the trio with a sex crime came after consulting with the alleged victim and his family.
As part of “No Gay Thursday,” upperclassmen would put their genitals on their younger teammates’ heads and smack them on their backs or behinds hard enough to leave marks, Hogan said, according to Bond. The tradition led some players to avoid the locker room on Thursdays, he said, per the AP, and some players quit altogether due to the hazing.
This alleged incident marks the latest in a string of high-profile hazing cases involving high school sports teams in recent years. In the fall of 2014, seven football players from Sayreville (N.J.) War Memorial High School were charged with sex crimes in connection to a hazing scandal that resulted in the cancellation of the team’s season. Six of the seven were placed on probation and ordered to each serve 50 hours of community service last fall. The Central Bucks (Pa.) school district likewise cancelled the remainder of its high school varsity and junior varsity football seasons due to “allegations of improper conduct” in the fall of 2014, as new members of the team were required to “grab another player’s private parts while fully clothed.” The district later relieved head football coach Brian Hensel of his coaching duties.
This past December, three high school players from Ooltewah (Tenn.) High School were charged with aggravated rape and aggravate assault after reportedly using a wooden pool stick to “sodomize” a 15-year-old teammate. Two of the team’s coaches and the school’s athletic director were later charged with failure to comply with a law requiring “mandatory reporting of child abuse and/or suspected child sexual abuse.”
This and other responses by the legal system to such incidents suggests a “zero tolerance” for any behaviors among teammates that lead to physical, mental, or emotional harm. As these recent incidents indicate, those who think they’re somehow above the law when participating in these types of activities most certainly are not.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.