May 21, 2018
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Call it hazing, if you wish, but it’s really bullying

By Renee Ordway, Special to the BDN

If my 14- or 15-year-old son was forced to pull his pants down by a bunch of oafish, giggling upperclassman and then beaten with a bat , well — I’ll be honest — I’d be troubled.

I would most likely be offended if those same young men were still to be deemed worthy of the privilege of representing our high school on a sports team. I would be more offended that the superintendent of schools and the members of the school board — you know, the adults in charge — didn’t get that.

Because it is a privilege, really, being a member of a team, wearing the uniform, working your tail off every night at practice. It’s school spirit — and athletics are a huge part of that. The best athletes, the most talented, are rightfully respected and appreciated for the honor they bring to the school.

The 2012 football team at Dexter Regional High School had its most successful season in recent history – six wins, two losses. It wasn’t stunning, but respectable. The members, the coaching staff — heck, the town — had something to be proud of.

So an overnight celebration of sorts was planned. It was held at the school. It was an overnight with movies and food and a big-screen TV and five adult male chaperones.

Oh, and some bullying and shaming and humiliation of the younger, weaker, less self-assured boys.

Call that hazing, if you wish. I suppose it’s called hazing because it involved members of a team, but it’s bullying and it’s shaming and it’s humiliation and the victims were 14- and 15-year-old boys.

Any parent of a teenage boy can vouch for the extreme differences in physical prowess and confidence between a freshman or sophomore and a senior. A lot of physical and emotional growth takes place during those years.

These overnight events, at least some of them, were caught on videotape, so it’s hard to ignore them. Even the superintendent, Kevin Jordan, called the events an “attack.”

The Dexter Police Department said Friday it plans to press charges against the upperclassmen who committed the acts.

It must have been pretty serious business.

Parents and grandparents of the victims told school board members that their sons and grandsons had visible bruises.

Minor, I would dare guess, compared to the invisible ones.

The alleged abusers were suspended from school from anywhere from one to 10 days and are now being told they will have to sit out part of their next sports season, currently basketball and wrestling.

They will have to basically sit on the bench for between one week to one month, but will then be allowed to suit up and play.

After that time the victims will be forced to continue playing on the team with their abusers if they still want to participate in sports, and the parents of the victims will watch the abusers go back to being cheered for each take-down or point scored on the court, or good hit or catch made on the field in the spring.

To sit in the stands of a small-town gymnasium and watch a player who humiliated and attacked your son be revered and cheered by your fellow townspeople, coaches and school administrators would, I suspect, take a great deal of intestinal fortitude.

Kids across the country are killing themselves because of bullying. We all shake our heads when we hear of it.

The boys who attacked their younger peers inside the school walls still deserve to be educated, but do they deserve the right to still represent Dexter High School on the court, the mat, the field or the track?

What message does that send to them, their parents and the victims and their parents?

Dexter can sit back and be proud of its 6-2 season, or it can see this opportunity to send a message and set a precedent for other schools and students.

Kids abusing kids is not tolerated and sitting on the sidelines for a couple of weeks is not worthy punishment for such behavior.

Tolerating it – and that is what they are doing by not banning them from athletics for the rest of the year – is an insult to the victims and sends a strong message that such gross and violent behavior is only a little troublesome.

A strong stand right now by the people of Dexter and the school administration would do much more for the community and the school’s standing than any winning season.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

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