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Groton High School reacts to football team hazing scandal

Groton football players pleaded guilty to hazing charges.

Two students on the Groton High School football team pleaded guilty Oct. 31 to first-degree harassment, a misdemeanor, following hazing allegations.

The Groton’s students sentencing will take place over the next six to eight weeks and will be handled by Town Justice Arthur Dewey Dawson. In response to the controversy, the high school administration is making changes to its athletic code.

Of the 14.7 million U.S. high school students, approximately 1.5 million — or nearly 10 percent — experience hazing each year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education and an Alfred University study.

Groton High School is responding to the allegations with a multi-step plan, Billie Downs, associate principal and athletic director, said. He said the plan includes: hazing prevention presentations with Travis Apgar, the dean of students at Cornell University, which will be presented to parents and coaches; student-athlete workshops on leadership and positive team building; increased supervision in locker rooms; and DASA (Dignity for All Students Act) in-house training for coaches. DASA is New York State legislation that seeks to provide students with a safe learning environment free of discrimination and harassment, and went into effect July 2012.

“We hope to create a culture where kids watch out for other kids so that the few offenders can be dealt with quickly and the school will be safer for all,” James Abrams, superintendent of the Groton School District, said. “Our students want the same type of culture that we do, but sometimes lack the courage or the avenue for reporting violations.”

Abrams has a hands-on role in the district’s plans for preventing this type of behavior among students in the future.

“We are a small school district. The superintendent has always worked closely with all departments,” he said.

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Cheltenham High School, in Montgomery County, the suburbs of Philadelphia, recently experienced its own hazing scandal involving its boys’ soccer team. The district notified police and conducted an internal investigation in response to September hazing allegations, but the team was allowed to finish out its season, which ended Oct. 16.

“I think this is a wake-up call for a lot of school districts across the country,” Susan O’Grady, director of communications and development at Cheltenham School District, said. “It’s time for us to look at how athletic programs are run. We are looking at all of our anti-bullying programs that are in the classroom and how those can intersect with and cross over with the educational training that we are now going to supplant into and supplement with what’s already there into our athletic program.”

Sayreville War Memorial High School in Sayreville, New Jersey, had its football season canceled last month following hazing allegations against seven football players who are now facing sex-crime charges. The district declined Ithaca Week’s requests for comment, but Superintendent Richard Labbe released a statement in response to the allegations that is no longer available on the district website.

According to the statement: “The district administration has already launched a holistic harassment intimidation and bullying (HIB) investigation of all athletic and extracurricular programs in order to ensure that we take all steps necessary now and in the future to protect all our students.”

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