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Hazing turning violent

parents told to be alert


Staff Writer

HOLTVILLE — Freshman high school football players being compelled to dress up and strut their stuff in frothy and filmy ballerina tutus?

By most people's reckoning that's pretty funny.

A rookie high school baseball player sodomized with a broomstick in the school's locker room by a group of seniors?

By anybody's reckoning that's not funny.

One incident arguably fits the definition of a harmless initiation ritual and the other is a criminal offense. Both meet the definition of "hazing."

While neither incident occurred in the Imperial Valley, educators here are concerned about hazing and the community's attitude toward it.

"Parents need to be much more conscious of the seriousness of hazing," Holtville Unified School District Superintendent Pat Maruca said Tuesday.

"Our concern is that across the U.S. hazing has moved from that fun, silly kind of initiation into the potential for something much more serious, into violent behavior," she said.


Maruca acknowledges her office is aware of two hazing incidents in Holtville within the last year.

Neither one resulted in the victims being "seriously injured or hurt," according to Maruca, but the Holtville school board is set to write a zero tolerance policy toward hazing into its books at the June school board meeting.

"Yes, we are adopting a zero tolerance attitude and there will be severe consequences for incidents of hazing," Maruca said as she sat at her desk Tuesday.

Maruca said many parents don't appear to regard hazing as a serious offense and perceive it as something that happens mainly at the college level, not on a high school campus.

At an orientation for next year's freshman at Holtville High earlier this month, Maruca said when the subject of hazing came up, the prevalent attitude — among fathers especially — seemed to be, "Oh, I did that too; it's no big deal."

Facts and figures from across the nation suggest that hazing is indeed a big deal — in high schools as well as colleges.

In a study published by New York's Alfred University in 2000, 48 percent of high school students in the study reported being subjected to activities that are considered hazing.

Twenty-nine percent of those students were expected to engage in potentially illegal activities as part of the hazing. Some 23 percent of the students were involved in substance abuse hazing activities, and 22 percent of students reported being involved in physically dangerous hazing.

In incidents across the nation, victims of hazing have been subjected to a range of abuse, from a severe beating to being kidnapped and locked in a car trunk to being made to drink copious quantities of alcohol — and in some cases those victims died as a direct result of these actions, according to the study.

Maruca says typically educators face difficulties in gaining an accurate feel for the number of occurrences of hazing because of the "code of silence" many students observe.

"Students don't want this sort of thing brought to the attention of the authorities," she said. "Many of the students regard this behavior as a rite of passage … that you're not supposed to tell anybody."

Talk to the eighth-graders at Holtville Middle School and you'll get a variety of reactions regarding the subject. The kids will tell you about freshman being subjected to "trash canning" and "paddling."

Fourteen-year-old Andrew Leimgruber described how older students will pounce on a freshman and stick him head first in a trash can.

"I think that's mean," the eighth-grader said.

When asked if he thought trash canning is a form of bullying, he said, "Yeah, well sort of."

Another 14-year-old eighth grader, Alex Freeman, responded, "It's not right. These people were once in our place too. They should show respect for where we're starting at because they were there, too."

Saying she didn't have to worry personally because she has older sisters at the high school to look out for her, 14-year-old eighth grader Lynne Medel described hazing in these terms: "It can be pretty bad and the reason being is because you're like the new people, the fresh meat and you're vulnerable and they just get you."

Even sixth-graders are aware of hazing. Twelve-year-old sixth-grader Ruben Rodriquez said he didn't know of anyone in middle school being hurt but he had heard that, "When you go to high school you get paddled … my sister saw someone getting paddled once."

The bottom line, according to Maruca, is hazing is not harmless fun but is "abuse plain and simple."

She thinks some parents may be reluctant to come forward because they have a perception that hazing is "part of a tradition and is just a fun thing."

"We need parents to be their child's first advocate; parents have a responsibility to bring it to the attention of the appropriate authority," Maruca added.

Administrators at the middle school and high school in Holtville are working in conjunction with the county Probation Department to develop in-depth anti-hazing presentations for students, parents and staff.

Mike Kelly, chief probation officer for Imperial County, has an unequivocal message for any students thinking about hazing other students in the future.

"In the old days it was considered to be ‘Oh, he's just sewing his wild oats.' Sewing your wild oats these days will get you locked up in juvenile hall," Kelly said. "Our campus probation officers are on campus to enforce the laws of the school district and they will enforce those laws."

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