ELLSWORTH, Maine — After a monthlong investigation, police have broken up a fight club that pitted teens — both boys and girls — against each other in bare-fisted fights.
They have charged five teens and one adult in connection with the club, which has organized fights at a remote location off Shore Road for several years. Police became aware of the fights last year, according to Officer Rick Roberts of the Ellsworth Police Department, but it appeared the fights had stopped.
Earlier this fall, Roberts said, Ellsworth High School Principal Bill Connors contacted the police and informed them the fight club was again active.
“He was very concerned,” Roberts said. “But the fights were happening after school, and nothing was happening on school property.”
Roberts said he began an investigation and in late September Connors received an e-mail with video of the fights that had been posted on YouTube, an online video-sharing site, that showed several fights taking place in Ellsworth.
“This was bare-fisted fights, a lot like the ‘Ultimate Fighter,’ a fight to the finish,” Roberts said. “My first reaction was, ‘This has to stop.’”
The videos show the teenagers engaged in the fights, sometimes surrounded by as many as 50 onlookers, many of whom watched silently, while others egged the fighters on. Although amateur videos, they show the fights graphically. One video in particular shows a youngster getting kneed to the head and falling to the ground.
Many of the fighters suffered injuries, including cuts and abrasions, Roberts said. In one case, a boy’s eye was swollen shut, he said.
The videos helped police in their investigation. They listed the names of the fighters — often either the first or last name — and helped officers discover where the fights were taking place.
“That was convenient,” Roberts said. “I watched it, and some of the kids, I recognized.”
Roberts said the high school staff has cooperated with the investigation. He sat with several staff members who helped to identify other students who were involved in the fights. Armed with that information, Roberts brought in the fighters and their parents.
“Most of these kids are good kids from good families,” he said. “Most of them said they did not want to be there, but there was a lot of pressure to be involved in it.”
The peer pressure also appears on the video, he said. One of the fighters says he isn’t doing it to win, he is just doing it to get it over with.
The prestige apparently is the title “toughest kid in the school,” Roberts said. Often, the fights appeared to be set up between teens who already didn’t like each other.
Although all the videos showed teenage boys fighting, Roberts said he had information that there had been fights pitting girls against girls. He said that part of the investigation had hit a dead end.
In all, five teenage boys, ages 14 through 17, all from the Ellsworth area, were issued summonses and charged with unlawful prize fighting. One adult, Jeremy Shorey, 19, of Ellsworth, who served as the referee in at least one of the fights, also was charged with unlawful prize fighting, which is a Class E crime punishable by up to six months in prison.
The fight club concept is not a local incident. Roberts said fight clubs have sprung up around the country. Officers even found rules for the Ellsworth fight club online.
It appears the fights have stopped since the police began charging people, but Roberts said they would remain alert in the event they start up again.
“We’re concerned that somebody is going to really get hurt,” he said. “If they start up again, we’re going to stop them.”
The investigation continues as police search for the person who has been organizing the fights.
“My goal is for this to stop,” he said. “I’m looking for the ringleader. I want to find out who’s picking the kids to fight, who’s setting it up. Somebody’s doing it.”
The information on the case will be forwarded to the Hancock County District Attorney’s Office.
The phenomenon of “fight clubs” gained momentum after the release of the 1999 film “Fight Club,” with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton.