Mike LeGage, the athletic director at Scarborough High, says all of his coaches address the issue of hazing on the first day of practice by reading aloud the school’s anti-hazing policy. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Falmouth High Coach Dave Halligan remembers how he felt as a freshman athlete at the school in the late 1960s when he had to do menial tasks like carry the water.

Halligan, 69, might not have called it hazing back then, but he knew he didn’t like taking orders from his older teammates.

“I grew up in an era when seniors did this and freshmen did that, and as a freshman, it bothered me. It did,” said Halligan, who twice has been honored as the national Coach of the Year in boys’ soccer.

In the wake of hazing allegations involving the Brunswick High football program that resulted in the dismissal of the head coach and several players from the team, coaches and athletic directors in Maine are assessing how they can make it abundantly clear to student-athletes that hazing is intolerable.

Falmouth High Coach Dave Halligan says the Brunswick incident provides an opportunity for coaches to teach players about the dangers of hazing. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“It’s a teachable moment,” said Halligan, who is also Falmouth’s boys’ basketball coach. “It’s bad for Brunswick, but we’ll sit down with our players and say, ‘Look what happened. Why do you suppose that is?’ Well, they didn’t respect their teammates.”

Hazing is common in American schools. At its worst, it can be extremely dangerous, even lethal. Other times, it might be barely recognized. But in every form, hazing boils down to those holding power in a group requiring someone joining or participating in a group to engage in an activity that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers them, regardless of a person’s willingness to participate.

According to experts like Elizabeth Allan, a University of Maine professor and founder of the research group StopHazing, schools and teams must be alert to stopping benign incidences of hazing, like having freshmen do clean-up chores, or requiring younger players to wear silly clothing. In Brunswick, the school department launched an investigation after school officials were informed that a player was held down and a sex toy was put into his mouth during a preseason team retreat.

The Brunswick Police Department’s separate investigation into the hazing allegations, which includes a review of video evidence, is expected to be completed early next week, Chief Scott Stewart said.

Most states, including Maine, have educational standards that require schools to have policies that forbid hazing. Nonetheless, 47 percent of college freshmen report they were hazed in high school, according Allan’s 2009 research, which is still considered the definitive study on high school hazing.

Mike LeGage, the athletic director at Scarborough High, said all of his coaches address the issue of hazing on the first day of practice by reading aloud the school’s anti-hazing policy. Before that, athletes and their parents sign off that they have read and accept the policy.

“We’ve tried to do those preemptive things, like make it part of our code of conduct,” LeGage said. “Our code of conduct has to be signed off during the registration process, by parents, by kids, that they’re going to abide by these rules if they’re going to participate. Then we read the hazing statement to the kids the very first day. … So it also sends that message as well, that this is important enough to us that the very first day, the very first thing, you’re going to hear that statement and be educated about that.

“But, is enough enough? You know, I don’t know when enough is enough, so when opportunities present themselves, we certainly try to educate our coaches, who then educate our kids,” LeGage added.

Packy Malia, Scarborough’s first-year varsity football coach, had a laminated copy of Scarborough’s hazing statement with him at a practice last week. He said he took a few minutes to address the Brunswick case with his team.

“We talked a little about it, but it’s a constant thing where we talk to our guys about being good teammates, good citizens and good team members, and treating people with respect,” Malia said. “And we talk about the neuroscience of doing good things for people. We really preach that better people make better football players. That’s the way we run our program.”

That consistent messaging is heard.

“Oh, definitely it’s discussed,” said Sam Rumelhart, a senior on Scarborough’s football team.

Rumelhart said when he heard about the hazing at Brunswick, his first thought was, “Your team is like a family. Why would you do that to your teammates?” adding, “The Brunswick case is bad. That stuff can’t happen.”

Gary Stevens, the athletic director at Thornton Academy, said he developed an anti-hazing statement as a first-year athletic director at Bonny Eagle in Standish in 1996 after hearing a keynote presentation about hazing at an athletic director’s conference. He still uses that statement today. It is part of Thornton’s general student handbook and the school’s athletic policies. As at Scarborough, parents and students have to sign that they have read those documents. The coaches talk directly to the athletes on the first day of practice, reading the statement aloud. Stevens addresses and defines hazing at parent information nights.

“Even with a statement, things can happen,” Stevens said. “I’m not naive to think it could never happen, but my first duty is to educate and reassure our families that we will take this seriously and to make sure they feel (their children) are in a safe environment.”

Brunswick High’s student handbook has a section that clearly states any form of hazing, whether on or off school grounds, is strictly prohibited. Additionally, by signing up for a sport at Brunswick, athletes and family members have to sign a form stating that they agree with rules set forth by the Maine Principals’ Association and the school, according to Brunswick Athletic Director Aaron Watson. Those rules include “agreeing to not participate in behaviors that do not promote improvement of self or team,” Watson said.

The MPA does not have a specific anti-hazing policy. Its 10-point Code of Ethics includes language that states the purpose of educational based athletics is to “develop and promote physical, mental, moral, social and emotional well-being of participants,” and to “avoid any practice or technique which endangers the present or future welfare of a participant.”

Watson said the Brunswick Athletic Department will be instituting a “much more clear-cut form that prohibits hazing, bullying and harassing” and will be given to each athlete on any of its teams. Those forms also will require a signature.

The hazing incident in Brunswick allegedly occurred during an overnight team retreat. Going to a preseason camp, or an out-of-state tournament, is relatively common, particularly for football and the spring sports of baseball and softball.

“It’s very important that you have a relationship with your coaches,” Stevens said. “You don’t want to micromanage, but if they’re going away, you have to know what is going on beforehand.”

At Old Orchard Beach, athletic director and football coach Dean Plante said he’s “never been a fan of the overnight camps,” because they create increased opportunities for players to be unsupervised.

“The bonding comes in practice and team dinners (that) your staff is part of. We’re cognizant of situations where you just don’t want to put our athletes,” Plante said.

CHANGING TIMES

In the late 1990s, Skowhegan Area High School had a pep rally tradition. A freshman was told he or she was taking part in a blindfolded eating contest in the packed gym. What the student wasn’t aware of was, when their blindfold went on, blindfolds on other “participants” came off. The freshman ate hurriedly alone, cheered on by the entire school.

“We’d never even think of doing that now,” said Jon Christopher, Skowhegan’s athletic director. “Nothing to single a student out.”

Christopher said he discusses hazing with athletes, coaches and parents as a part of the school’s overall athlete code of conduct, although in light of the situation with the Brunswick High football team, hazing may be discussed more thoroughly on its own. Christopher also said anything that could be considered singling out younger players could be considered hazing.

Freeport Athletic Director Craig Sickels says he’ll be discussing hazing as part of the school’s athletic conduct code when he meets with athletes and parents before the winter sports season. Photo courtesy of Craig Sickels

Craig Sickels, Freeport High’s athletic director, said he goes over various portions of the school’s athletic conduct code with athletes and parents before each season. Sometimes, Sickels focuses on alcohol use or grades. At times, he’s mentioned hazing.

“I can tell you, this winter (hazing) will be one we go over,” Sickels said.

Sickels also has stressed to Freeport coaches to make sure they have no tolerance for hazing.

“It doesn’t build up teams. It breaks them down,” Sickels said. “I think we take it seriously. Every year it is a major topic at our coaches meetings.”

Educational resources are readily available to schools wishing to strengthen their anti-hazing message. StopHazing has multiple free informational documents, as well as a 17-minute documentary called “We Don’t Haze.”

The National Federation of State High School Associations is another source of information for coaches and athletic directors to learn about best practices, including an online education course designed for coaches called “Bullying, Hazing and Inappropriate Behaviors,” and a free course for students, “Hazing Prevention for Students,” which includes methods for intervention and reporting hazing to the proper authorities.

“Every school – those that have had hazing take place and those that haven’t yet – they should be ensuring that they’re providing information and opportunities for the students and the teachers to learn more about hazing and therefore be able to identify it earlier,” said Allan, the UMaine professor.

Portland Press Herald staff writer Travis Lazarczyk contributed to this report.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.