hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

December 7, 2011

Anti-hazing policies reinforced

Andover scandal draws Haverhill coaches' attention

By Alex Lippa

Haverhill High School already has procedures in place aimed at preventing sports team hazing and has no plans to alter them in the wake of the hazing scandal that has rocked Andover High.

Athletic Director Tom O'Brien said the school followed its normal procedures prior to the start of the winter sports season.

"We already do all we can to educate the students," said O'Brien. "We let them know that it won't be tolerated."

During the preseason for each sport, O'Brien hosts a mandatory meeting with parents and students to reinforce the school's no-nonsense anti-hazing policy.

"If there is ever a doubt about an incident, we would consider it hazing," he said.

Coaches also review the policy in separate meetings with their teams.

Haverhill football coach Tim O'Connor teams up each upperclassman with an underclassman at the beginning of the year to establish a positive relationship and friendship between older and younger players. He also makes sure that he or a member of his coaching staff checks in with freshmen each week to see how they are doing both on and off the field.

"We make sure that it is a family atmosphere," said O'Connor. "We will bicker, but we don't hurt each other."

Superintendent James Scully said that from "time to time," Haverhill Public Schools receives allegations of hazing. All incidents are investigated by school personnel in cooperation with Haverhill police.

Hazing has been in the headlines locally and nationally after an incident involving Andover High basketball players at the Hoop Mountain basketball camp at Stonehill College in July. Two students were reportedly forced or coaxed into taking part in sexual misconduct. After an investigation, Andover High plans to expel two students and has dismissed five additional players from the basketball team.

Haverhill basketball coach Mike Trovato was shocked by the scandal and after hearing about it made sure to address his players about the dangers of hazing. "We discussed hazing the first day of practice," said Trovato. "We warn the kids that even things that they think are so minor, can't be done."

Trovato, in his fifth year at Haverhill, said he has never had a problem with hazing and trusts his players to behave properly.

"We're all the same people and we're all family," said Haverhill senior Parker Rogers. "Regardless of if you're an upper or underclassman, we shouldn't do that to each other."

"It's no way to welcome somebody to your team," said Haverhill senior Nate Bresnahan. "I just think it's completely wrong."

O'Brien said that Haverhill athletes do attend camps similar to Hoop Mountain. Because the camps are not sponsored or funded by the schools, what student do there is out of the school officials' control.

"The preventative aspect is the toughest part of all," said O'Brien.

Haverhill High teacher Lori Curry is an advisor of the Violence Intervention and Prevention (VIP) team at the high school and had a half-hour discussion with students to discuss the hazing incident at Andover High School.

"Many students were shocked that kids would even think of doing that to people on their own team," said Curry. "They thought that it bordered on sexual abuse more than just simple hazing."

Curry said that VIP students also were concerned about how their fellow students will behave when the Andover basketball team visits Haverhill for its season opener next Friday.

In the past, Haverhill students have been upset by Andover students mocking them, and some believe the hazing scandal could provoke retaliation.

"We want to come across with some class and sophistication regarding the issue," said Curry.

Ideas have been floated, such as wearing armbands during the game stating that "Haverhill is against hazing," or having an assembly prior to the game to talk about the dangers of hazing.

Bresnahan said that while he doesn't know quite what to expect from the crowd at the Andover game. He is certain of one thing.

"It will be loud, very, very loud."