With hazing cases making news across the country, we look to see if there are cases in our own community.
Dean of Students Mr. Tim Dougherty sat at his dark wooden desk leaning back in his chair, knocking on wood with his clenched fist.
Days later, Athletic Director Mr. Kurt Ruch leaned forward in his chair as he clenched his own fist and knocked on his wooden desk.
Dougherty and Ruch both knocked on wood in the hope that Malvern Preparatory school will ultimately stay clear of hazing, from bustling halls to noisy locker rooms and game-ready fields.
Hazing scandals always seem to find their way to the headlines, and the Chester County area is not immune. Conestoga High School made national headlines in March 2016, when a student accused football players of sodomy during weekly rituals of “No Gay Thursday.”
That case was recently settled in juvenile court on lesser charges, according to Philly.com. However, a statement approved by Senior Judge Ronald C. Nagle and reported at Philly.com suggested the pain to all involved in the case.
“The victim, the charged juveniles, and their respective families all would like the opportunity to move on with their lives. We all hope never to see an incident like this in Chester County again,” the statement read.
Hazing has not made headlines at Malvern Preparatory School. But some still think it may be occurring without notice.
“Sure, [hazing] has happened,” Dougherty said.
Head Lacrosse Coach and Associate Director of Admissions Mr. John McEvoy said he avoids the word.
“I don’t really use the term ‘hazing,’ but we talk about examples of all the stuff that is in the news,” McEvoy said. “That, among many other things, like social media.”
What are the concrete steps that Malvern is taking to ensure hazing is not a part of the culture of Warren Avenue?
Laws and Rules
Over the past few years, hazing cases throughout Pennsylvania have led to changes in the law. On May 24, 2016, Pennsylvania State Governor Tom Wolf signed House Bill 1574, which altered the laws on hazing that were previously in place.
Prior to House Bill 1574, hazing laws in Pennsylvania only applied to college students. Now they affect students ranging all the way from seventh grade through the entirety of college.
According to Pennsylvania State Law, hazing is any action or situation which recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student or which willfully destroys or removes public or private property for the purpose of initiation or admission into or affiliation with, or as a condition for continued membership in, any organization operating under the sanction of or recognized as an organization by an institution of higher education.
Hazing can be in the form of beatings, whipping, forced calisthenics, exposure to the elements, forced consumption of any food, alcohol, drugs, or just about anything that could harm another person.
The new law created a new requirements for secondary schools – public and private – to adopt. This includes publishing an anti-hazing policy which must also be shared on the school’s website.
At Malvern Prep, the rules in the Student Handbook stem almost directly from the Pennsylvania law. The Student Handbook states that “any activity that can be deemed harmful to a member of our community for purposes of initiation, admission into, a liation with, or continued membership in an organization is directly or indirectly conditioned may be considered hazing.”
Dougherty informed the student body and teachers about these rules on hazing during an assembly at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year.
“We have to go over this,” Dougherty said. “We talk about it with teachers.”
While some students have forgotten about the assembly at the beginning of the year, others remember the key message which were stated in Mr. Dougherty’s words.
“I remember the talk,” senior water polo player and swimmer Nick Calvaresi said. “I did not know much on the topic until then.”
Senior lacrosse player Alex Reber appreciated Dougherty’s talk. “It was definitely good to hear,” he said. “I mean, some things can go overboard, but most teams are pretty tame with the way they run the team.”
Ruch also spoke with some teams before this season, according to players.
“Mr. Ruch brought the whole team together before the season and discussed hazing,” junior football player Jack Walker said. “He talked about how other schools from around this area have gotten in trouble because of hazing scandals.”
The Faculty and Staff handbook deals with hazing, including a schoolwide policy. So does the coaches’ handbook, according to Ruch. “It is handed out at the beginning of each season, and it goes with the coaches everywhere. It has the whole hazing policy that was written a few years ago that the school approved of.”
According to that policy, the consequences of hazing can be very serious. “For hazing you can be expelled, certainly suspended,” Dougherty said.
The policy gives the Head of School the discretion to impose any discipline deemed appropriate for an incident of hazing, against both the individual who engaged in the conduct and the organization of which they were a member. That means that in addition to individual sanctions, clubs, organizations, or teams could lose the permission to operate on campus if hazing is implicated.
Those consequences might be just the beginning. According to the policy, discipline by the school “does not preclude any criminal penalty which may be imposed for violation of criminal laws, and the School will fully cooperate, and share information with law enforcement as part of any investigation.”
Pennsylvania state law classifies hazing as a third degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and/or up to $2,500 in fines
For coaches and players around campus, defining what exactly constitutes hazing can be challenging.
“It would have to come down to exactly what we are talking about,” Ruch said. “If a kid was making fun of someone obviously that would not get them to the level of if another kid was physically harming another student.”
McEvoy agreed. “It is easy to say that I would do this or do that, I would have to take it very seriously.”
McEvoy defines hazing as bullying. “I would categorize it as that,” he said. “You are intimidating someone lesser than you, whether it is freshman, or newcomers on the team. Intimidating can be cutting their hair, physically, emotionally, mentally, something like that.”
Ruch said that head coaches review hazing with captains, and in turn captains go over policies with their players. “Usually the students already know since it is in the [student handbook], so I have never really needed to go over it with them.”
Coaches have started to bring more awareness to their teams on campus. Players say they have taken the hazing talks seriously and understand the rules and consequences.
“This year, before the start of the water polo season, our coach [Jay Schiller] talked to us a lot about [hazing],” Calvaresi said.
Calvaresi also said that the swimming and water polo teams have already changed some of their practices and rituals. They no longer have “freshman duty,” as Calvaresi referred to it, where the underclassmen on the team would take care of everything from lane ropes to goals and balls that spread across the water.
“Now it is like a team thing, since we can’t haze,” Calvaresi said. “It’s mostly everybody’s responsibility.”
According to Reber, it is a rite of passage for all the new varsity lacrosse players to grab the waters for the rest of the team. He does not consider this to be a form of hazing.
“It was an obligation to do it,” Reber said. “I did not feel bullied because I had to get water – it was just something I had to do.”
Almost every team has some of those basic responsibilities for the days. Ruch proposed a solution for those tasks.
“Captains should also do it, and pick different kids each time,” Ruch said. “I have coached here for a number of years and each one of my teams we pick different kids.”
One of the visible traditions of the football team was “mandated” haircuts where underclassmen would get their heads shaved into crazy patterns by the senior players in anticipation of a major rival game at the end of the season.
Walker said he was reluctant to get the football haircut during his sophomore year. “When I first heard about the haircuts, I did not know if it was actually going to happen or not,” he said. “I did not want to get the haircut, but I also remembered that the kids above my class got them as well.”
“The seniors at the time said that it was our choice to do it, but none of us sophomores wanted to be that kid to not do it,” Walker said. “So most of us did it.”
Walker does not believe the haircuts were hazing, because the seniors gave underclassmen a choice of whether they wanted to participate.
“At the time it was not fun, but looking back it was one of the funniest things to occur during football season,” Walker said.
The football team is not the only sports team on campus to have had a “voluntary” hair cut.
“When I first got here there was a tradition the new kids on the [lacrosse] team would shave their heads at the opening party, get funny haircuts or something,” McEvoy said. “That became a voluntary thing. I never quite liked that. I did not know if that was official or not. I did not like the whole concept, it made them look like goofballs.”
McEvoy recognized that some students would not participate in the haircuts. “Whether kids make them feel bad or not, the kids feel bad or awkward because they choose not to do it,” he noted.
According to former cross country runner Dan Ferraiolo ’14, haircuts for rivalry games should not necessarily be considered hazing. “We did it for fun,” he said. “It was two days before our state race. Me and two of my teammates thought it would be cool if we got unique haircuts.
“Hazing would be that all the freshman on a team would have to get a haircut,” Ferraiolo said. “We literally decided to do it for the state meet because it was fun.”
Reber has been playing varsity lacrosse since junior year, and said he has not seen any type of hazing.
“We did not shave anybody’s heads,” Reber said. “The only thing that we would do is eyebrow slits – but that was only if they wanted to do it.”
Dougherty’s view differs. “Even though it was voluntary, there is no such thing as volunteer,” he said.
Teamwork, not Bullying
Coaches and captains agree that hazing does not build the team to a championship winning caliber.
“A good team does not haze, plain and simple,” McEvoy said. “Some people think that is team building. That is not team building, that is bullying, in my opinion.”
McEvoy said he is always figuring out ways for his team to build bonds between one another.
“Team building can be anything from going to play paintball in the fall, to running really hard as a team and working really really hard, and everyone kind of gutting through something,” McEvoy said. “That is called team building.”
Ruch said that one of Malvern’s strengths is creating that team building without hazing.
“We have great kids. A lot of our kids do a great job of supporting one another, through Friar Nation, and going at different events, like the band concert,” Ruch said. “Our kids are really good at that, making sure that everyone feels a part of the group … a brotherhood.”
Hazing incidents can have longstanding implications for the students involved and the school. Although the football players involved in the incident at Conestoga High School settled on charges in juvenile court, a civil case against the school district and coaches terminated in the incident is ongoing, according to Daily Local.
This marks nearly a year since the original allegations made national headlines.
“We have been, I want to say, lucky,” Dougherty said as he knocked on his desk. “Sharing an experience that bothers you, in hazing, does not make you a better football player, or soccer player. The tears and laugher of competition, that is what galvanized teamwork, and that is the stuff that really forges close bonds.”
Story produced in senior Journalism and Media Literacy elective. Pat Ferraiolo ’17 and Tyler Pizzico ’17 contributed on reporting.