Hazing incident involving football players reported at another Maryland high school, officials say

The Washington Post

A second high school in the Maryland suburbs has confronted an alleged episode of hazing involving football players, officials confirmed — as administrators contend with continuing concern about alleged sexual assaults by players at Damascus High, a football powerhouse.

The new case in Montgomery County involved students at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown. Capt. Paul Starks, a Montgomery County police spokesman, said the agency investigated allegations of unwanted sexual touching among football players at the school on Sept. 18.

Detectives learned there were multiple possible suspects and one possible victim.

It was never clear what may have happened and whether the alleged incident amounted to an assault or a sexual assault, according to Starks. Also, the alleged victim did not want to pursue the case, Starks said. No charges were filed.

“These types of investigations are victim-driven,” Starks said.

Montgomery school system spokesman Derek Turner said that disciplinary action was taken against multiple students and that adults were reprimanded for a lack of supervision. Team discussions have since focused on the harm of such behavior and the importance of respect and sportsmanship.

“The team had a long conversation and continues to engage around this issue,” Turner said.

The details come as Damascus High, on the northern side of the county, reels from allegations that five players on the junior varsity squad attacked four of their teammates in the locker room the day before the season’s last game.

The Damascus players were allegedly assaulted with a broomstick after the lights were turned off. One said that he told the assailants to stop and that they said the practice was “a tradition,” according to a police report obtained by The Washington Post. The player said he had heard about “brooming” in middle school and considered it a myth.

Three teenagers have each been charged with two counts of attempted second-degree rape and two counts of second-degree rape. A fourth teenager has been charged with three counts of ­second-degree rape. That charge, in Maryland, covers a range of nonconsensual acts that can involve the use of an object. A fifth teen faces a single count of attempted second-degree rape. All are charged in juvenile court.

Montgomery school officials say they have not been told of any history or established ritual with broomsticks in the school’s football program. They said that after police complete their investigation, they will “look at every part of the football team and how it relates to the alleged incident.”

The charges have been especially troubling in a place that some supporters call “Maryland’s best football town.” Damascus High’s varsity team has won three state championships in a row and started this year’s playoff run with a victory Friday.

Montgomery Schools Superintendent Jack R. Smith said in a message to the school community Friday that police have not linked the varsity team with the alleged crimes, so its games will go on as scheduled. If any connection surfaces, he said, disciplinary action or retroactive penalties could be imposed.

Hazing is not uncommon in high school sports programs, with their close bonds and power differences between older and younger players, said Clark Power, a professor of psychology and education at the University of Notre Dame who has studied hazing and founded the nonprofit Play Like a Champion Today to help address a range of issues in youth sports.

The kind of sexual assaults alleged in the Damascus case are much less common, he said, but not unheard of.

“You can’t underestimate how damaging this is,” he said. “This is very, very serious, and the effects continue throughout a lifetime.”

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