Five soccer players at a Needham, Mass., high school have been suspended after accusations of blindfolding younger teammates and dragging the girls along the field with dog leashes.
The varsity players — four seniors and a freshman — reportedly concluded the Oct. 29 hazing incident by throwing pies in their teammates' faces, according to local media. Their coach was put on leave for not reporting the incident immediately, the school told The Boston Globe.
On Tuesday, the suspended girls' parents went to court seeking an injunction that would allow the girls to play in Tuesday night's state tournament match, but a judge refused to overturn the school's decision. Needham lost the match against Brockton High School 7-1.
Documents filed Monday in Norfolk Superior Court said the allegations stemmed from "an initiation ritual of new team members" after the team advanced in the Bay State Conference, according to the Globe.
It wasn't until a week later that players' parents received an email from Needham High School principal Jonathan D. Pizzi, the court papers said. The email, sent last Friday, said the school was investigating "an alleged incident of serious misbehavior" and banned the team from practicing for the entire weekend.
The coach, Carl Tarabelli, has not commented on the situation. His daughter, a goalie, is among those suspended, reports WBZ-TV.
"Needham High School Community is saddened about recent events involving the girls' soccer team," the school said in a statement. Administrators declined to comment further, but said the Needham Police Department is investigating the allegations.
A teambuilding exercise?
Todd D. White, a lawyer and father of one of the freshmen who was allegedly targeted, told WHDH that no one was hurt. "The consequences of the investigation were infinitely more harmful than anything that any of these kids went through," he said. He told the news station the incident was more of a teambuilding exercise gone wrong than it was hazing.
After receiving the principal's email, White and other parents filed a restraining order against Pizzi and Micah Hauben, the school's athletic director, worried that the ban would force the team to forfeit from the state tournament. The court complaint also argued administrators hadn't properly communicated with students and their parents.
"Our daughter is a responsible adult," wrote Lisa and Craig Newfield, parents of one player, in the court complaint. "From her and her cohort we hear that the incident was misguided, but no real harm was done. Their sentiment, and ours, is: it happened, it’s over, let’s move on. Jessica was not hurt by the events, and continues to respect the seniors and feels like a respected member of the team."
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But Judge Barbara Dortch-Okara sided with the school.
"[My daughter] loves these seniors, supports these seniors, and is mortified that in any way these seniors are harmed, their college careers are harmed," White told WHDH.
Massachusetts passed a law in 1985 requiring all high schools to enforce antihazing policies.
"I don't see any way those kids could think that was appropriate behavior," Paul Wetzel, spokesman for the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, told WBZ-TV. In response to some students who told local media the soccer team has a tradition of initiating new players, Wetzel said, "Just because it was alright way back when, doesn't mean it's alright now. What somebody thinks is funny, another might see as bullying. Someone might think teasing, while another takes it as a serious personal insult."
Needham High School would not tell msnbc.com any further details about the case, including how long the players were suspended for. A call to the superintendent's office went unanswered.
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