Hazing Allegations Prompt Firing of Pa. High School Football Staff

The shakeup is the result of an internal investigation, which found that players had hazed their teammates for years.
Published: March 21, 2016

The Main Line school district in suburban Philadelphia has fired the entire Conestoga High School football coaching staff, and its head coach, John Vogan, has resigned. The firings were the result of an internal investigation conducted by the district, which found that players had hazed their teammates for years.

District officials sent a letter to parents on Thursday announcing the shakeup. In total five varsity and junior-varsity football team staff members were relieved of all of their coaching positions and will be required to reapply for their jobs, reports Philly.com. Vogan, who was also the school’s basketball coach, had previously been suspended while the district conducted its investigation.

RELATED: Putting an End to Hazing Deaths

The firings were prompted by a weekly ritual performed by football players called “No Gay Thursday.” That ritual escalated to assault last October, claim prosecutors.

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Two seniors on the team are accused of holding down a 14-year-old freshman while a third penetrated his rectum with a broom handle, reports the news source. All three have been charged as juveniles with assault, unlawful restraint, making terroristic threats and other offenses.

The district’s internal investigation found that the locker rooms didn’t have enough adult supervision, which created an environment where hazing could occur.

The boy who was assaulted in October has been accused of distributing sexually explicit photos of a 13-year-old classmate the following month.

RELATED: How to Assess Your Hazing Prevention and Response Program

Below is the text of the district’s letter sent to parents:

We thank you for your continued patience with our administration as we conduct our investigation into the reported events involving members of the Conestoga football team. This matter has engendered a range of reactions from many community members, all of whom care deeply about the school, the District, and our students.

Since March 4, administrators have interviewed all students and coaches identified by county law enforcement. Additionally, all students and community members were invited to share any information pertinent to our investigation. Listed below is a summary of current findings from the school investigation:

-Hazing activities occurred with some members of the football team over the past several years, including back slapping, horseplay, and obscene behaviors targeted toward underclassmen.
-These activities sometimes occurred under the label of “No Gay Thursday.”
-No interviews or other evidence indicated that any adult had knowledge of these activities.
-The locker rooms had an insufficient adult presence throughout the football season, creating an environment where hazing activities could occur.

Conestoga does not accept any type of intolerance, hazing, bullying or intimidation within our school community. “No Gay Thursday” is ignorant, intolerant, and has no place in any school. Even though no gay students were specific targets of discrimination, the practice itself is an affront to us all. We are committed to eliminating these activities and providing a positive, respectful environment that is safe for all students. Disciplinary action has been administered to students as appropriate, and consequences were applied per the school’s disciplinary code of conduct. All students affected by these activities have been offered support from the school.

As you may know from statements made by the District Attorney, the alleged assault on October 15 is the subject of proceedings in the juvenile justice system. The District Attorney’s office and the police are limited in what they can share with us about their own very extensive investigation. Therefore, the District does not have access to the same testimony or other evidence as law enforcement. After following every lead provided by the police, we have not received enough evidence to make a definitive determination at this time. We have an obligation to base any conclusions about a matter of such seriousness and consequence on the evidence that is available to us. The investigation into the alleged assault remains open, and we continue to invite anyone who has information related to this event to call a school administrator at (610) 240-1000. As always, and in accordance with student privacy rights under the law, details related to specific student disciplinary matters must remain confidential.

The head football coach has resigned effective immediately from all coaching responsibilities. The entire varsity and junior varsity football staff has also been relieved of all coaching responsibilities in all sports through the fall season. In addition, we are recommending the creation of a full-time District Athletic Director position for middle school and high school sports programs. With a full-time District Athletic Director, we will have the benefit of a leader who can make District goals for our athletes a priority without the demand of other administrative responsibilities.

We are currently drawing upon the resources of the broader community of experts to implement a comprehensive plan to support students and staff in the following ways:

-Identifying consultants to design District-required programming for the entire football team to foster and maintain a positive and respectful sport culture. The best outcomes of this work will be implemented with all teams.
-Building upon our long-standing relationship with the Anti-Defamation League to enhance existing school efforts with tolerance and diversity, emphasizing the dignity of all people regardless of sexual or gender identity.
-Creating collaborative efforts between our counselors and experts to design and deliver classroom lessons for all CHS students that promote universal respect.
-Inviting officials from the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association to review all school practices related to a positive athletic culture. We will ask for recommendations to strengthen our policies, rules, documents, and communications to assure alignment with best practices.

We will engage these expert authorities to work with our entire school toward improvement, and we will continue to inform our students and parents as plans take specific shape. We are offering an opportunity for residents to share their thoughts about this matter with the Board and administration on Monday, March 28 at 6PM in the Conestoga High School auditorium.

We thank the community for its patience and support as we face adversity, address challenges, and grow stronger as a school community. Through collaboration and the participation of all students and parents, we will never settle for anything less than a school free from hazing, intimidation, and intolerance. Working together, we will become a better and stronger Conestoga community.

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Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
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Strategy & Planning Series