The coach thought it was all in good fun. But when photos leaked of the boys on his Howell, Mich., high school hockey team performing skits in a bar -- in wigs and women's lingerie -- school officials ended the coach's 10-year career, and fired his three assistants.
Every year, when the varsity hockey team went to Marquette, Mich., for a tournament, they engaged in what the coach, Randy Montrose, calls a "rite of passage," reports Detroit TV station WXYZ. The players donned ladies' undergarments and performed a comedic talent show. He emphasized that all the boys take part voluntarily.
But whether or not it was voluntary didn't matter to school officials in the town of nearly 10,000 that's about 50 miles northwest of Detroit. According to a local news website, Livingston Daily, the "Howell Public Schools Student/Parent Handbook" defines hazing as: "performing any act or coercing another, including the victim, to perform any act of initiation into any class, group or organization that creates a risk of causing mental, emotional or physical harm. Permission, consent or assumption of risk by an individual subjected to hazing shall not lessen the prohibitions contained in this policy."
After school Superintendent Ron Wilson reportedly received an anonymous phone call about the incident, along with other allegations, he launched an investigation. The school soon "ended its relationship" with Coach Montrose and his three assistants, Scott Gardiner, Chris Jones and Marty Passino, according to the school's press release.
"It was such a clear violation of our school policy and MHSAA rules, that regardless of how long it was going on, we didn't have much of a choice," Wilson told the Livingston Daily.
Montrose had brought the team to fantastic success in his decade as coach. And the team members, at least the ones who spoke to WXYZ, jumped to their coach's defense. "No one was anxious or scared to do it," explained Travis Wever, a senior. 'We were looking forward to it. We thought it would be funny for the players, parents and coach. We just danced. Nothing vulgar, nothing bad, in our opinion."
Andrew Brownlee, also a senior, who had also participated the year before, said, "You're a kid once, and can only be a kid once." Another team member said similar things happened on other sports teams, and that they felt "picked on" and "in shock."
"You work at building a program for 10 years and get the respect of the kids, their parents, and--," Montrose said, trailing off. "It's very difficult."
Hazing has been a topic in the news lately, after a drum major at Florida A&M University died in December from blunt trauma sustained during a hazing ritual. Investigators classified the death as a homicide. But hazing has long been controversial. It's often defended by high school and college clubs as an exercise in bonding, and opposed by others as a practice that can easily slip into coercion, humiliation, abuse, injury or worse.
Notorious hazing incidents usually don't involve coaches, but there have been a few. In 2000, George Dixon, a wrestling coach at Hilton Head High School in South Carolina, resigned after a student reported that she had been sexually assaulted with a broomstick during an initiation ritual, though no charges were filed. And the football coach at Canyon High School in New Braufels, Texas, resigned in 1997 after a father claimed that his son was penetrated with a coat hanger during an assault by older players. Investigators failed to corroborate the accusation.
The hazing at Howell High School was in no way as severe as these charges, but even a comedic drag show poses a danger in the minds of school officials. As a general policy, school staff members probably shouldn't encourage students to strip down.
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