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THE NATION

3 High School Players Are Charged With Felonies in Alleged Hazing Incidents

October 03, 2003|John J. Goldman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — A district attorney in Pennsylvania filed felony charges Thursday against three high school varsity football players, accusing them of sexually abusing younger teammates during a preseason training camp.

The members of the Mepham High School team from Bellmore, N.Y., were indicted as juveniles after an investigation by authorities and a grand jury in Pennsylvania, where the alleged hazing incidents took place. The charges included aggravated assault, kidnapping, unlawful restraint and false imprisonment.

Prosecutors said they were considering whether the case could be transferred to adult court.

The players, two 16-year-olds and a 17-year-old, were not identified, nor were they immediately arrested. Authorities said they would be asked to travel voluntarily to Pennsylvania, but if they declined warrants would be issued.

The attacks allegedly occurred in August at a camp 125 miles north of Philadelphia, which was attended by 60 players and five coaches from the high school. Authorities said the coaches slept in different cabins from the players. Reports of the alleged incidents surfaced when a parent complained to the high school's principal.

Varsity football coach Kevin McElroy, in his first public statement on the episode, said Tuesday that he considered what reportedly occurred to be a criminal act.

"First and foremost, the entire Mepham High School coaching staff would like to offer our sympathy to the students who were victimized and their families," McElroy said. "My coaching staff and I took all foreseeable precautions to ensure the safety of our students, including but not limited to having both parents and athletes sign a code of conduct."

The coach said he and his assistants had not spoken about the incident previously because they were instructed not to by the Bellmore-Merrick Board of Education, which was conducting an internal investigation.

"We have offered our full cooperation to the school district and the Pennsylvania authorities," McElroy said.

At one point during the investigation, Wayne County Dist. Atty. Mark R. Zimmer complained that he was receiving little cooperation from school officials, players and others believed to have knowledge of the alleged incidents -- in which a 13-year-old and two 14-year-old boys were said to have been sodomized with a broomstick, pine cones and golf balls.

Eventually, the grand jury issued subpoenas to the school's principal and coaching staff, as well as the alleged victims and attackers.

Zimmer said school authorities were now cooperating with investigators.

"This investigation is far from over," Zimmer said Thursday, labeling the allegations "unspeakable acts."

"Silence is often golden, but in this particular circumstance it is reprehensible," he said.

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