Students: Nixing football sends no-hazing message

DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (AP) Students at a suburban Philadelphia high school say officials have sent a strong anti-hazing message by canceling the rest of the football season, including Friday’s long-awaited homecoming game against a crosstown rival.

But teens at Central Bucks High School West in Doylestown differed on whether the punishment was appropriate, partly because few details have emerged about what new players were allegedly forced to do by older teammates.

”I really think if someone was to say, `Hey guys, stop, this isn’t cool,’ they would have stopped,” said Kishan Bhut, a 16-year-old junior who said he knows some players. He also questioned why it took so long for the allegations to surface.

Superintendent David Weitzel said he learned Oct. 14 about pre-season rituals for rookies such as grabbing another player’s genitals while fully clothed. On Thursday, he scratched the squad’s remaining two games – including the annual contest against Central Bucks East – and suspended all varsity and junior varsity coaches pending further investigation.

The development came just weeks after Sayreville War Memorial High School in New Jersey canceled its football season for similar reasons. Five coaches were suspended and criminal charges are pending against seven players.

Central Bucks West alumni include Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine Jr. and two of his assistants. Pettine’s father built the school’s football dynasty with a 327-42-4 record from 1967-1999.

On Friday, the Browns coach called the hazing allegations ”unfortunate.”

”There’s obviously no place for that,” Pettine said during a post-practice news conference.

Weitzel declined to discuss the matter further Friday, noting a community meeting is planned for Tuesday. Some students were seen wearing football jerseys as they left school in the afternoon, even though the game and a pep rally were canceled.

Junior Ben Harris, 16, said that while he wasn’t sure if he agreed with the administration’s decision, there was no question it had an effect.

”It’s a big tradition this game,” Harris said of homecoming. ”It definitely sends a message to the players.”

Senior Jake Reed, 17, said he’s not sure the discipline went far enough. The Central Bucks Regional police chief has said he was told one initiation rite involved placing towels over players’ heads and leading them into the shower.

”I’m kind of hoping they get some more serious repercussions,” Reed said.

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association usually allows districts to handle these situations at the local level, said associate executive director Melissa Mertz.

”If we start to see something that’s a trend, certainly our board of directors would address it,” Mertz said.

Earlier this year, the group adopted a policy that will require coaching education for all coaches starting in July 2016. She said the training includes information about hazing.