Philomath High School football scoreboard is shown in Philomath, Ore., Sept. 12, 2016. One of the town's biggest events is Friday night football games, but football season has been canceled at the high school in the midst of a hazing episode. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky)

Philomath High School football scoreboard is shown in Philomath, Ore., Sept. 12, 2016. One of the town's biggest events is Friday night football games, but football season has been canceled at the high school in the midst of a hazing episode. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky)

Small town laments loss of football season due to hazing

  • By ANDREW SELSKY
  • Friday, September 23, 2016 1:03am
  • Sports

PHILOMATH, Ore. — The scoreboard at the edge of Philomath High School’s football field is dark. The stands are empty. This year, there are no varsity games that brought together many of the town’s 4,500 people.

Hazing inflicted by upperclassmen on 11 freshman players at a conditioning camp has led to the season’s cancellation, investigations by authorities and the school district, and calls for healing and for the tradition to stop.

Studies show more than half of college students in sports teams, clubs and organizations have experienced hazing. Many were hazed in high school. Just last week in California, three varsity high school football players were charged in a separate incident.

Breaking the cycle is difficult, but Philomath is tackling the issue head on.

“The school district is paying attention to both what happened and what could prevent this from happening again,” Superintendent Melissa Goff told The Associated Press. “We’re paying very close attention to the mental health needs of our students and how we, as a community, can pull together.”

Philomath is a small, sleepy town. Traffic barrels past shuttered businesses on Main Street, a highway heading into the Coastal Range to the west. Corvallis, home to Oregon State University, lies 3 miles to the east.

The town formed around Philomath College, which existed from 1865 to 1929. Its name is Greek for “lover of learning.”

Philomath has little in the way of entertainment, and several people said the loss of the football season will be a blow.

“It’s a little bitty town, and there’s not much else to do, so there was usually a pretty big turnout there,” said Rhonda Lewis, a waitress at the C D & J Cafe, on Main Street. “I don’t know what’s going to happen now.”

Pastors representing seven churches have made themselves available “to listen, pray for and offer counseling to local students, parents and school district personnel,” said Jim Hall, senior pastor of Living Faith Community Church. They’ve had conversations with a broad spectrum of townspeople, Hall said.

The school district contracted an independent investigator, Goff said. That probe is ongoing. The Oregon State Police also investigated, because the incident happened at a state-owned camp.

Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson said 11 freshman players had intimate parts of their bodies targeted during an initiation.

In court Thursday, one of six upperclassmen charged with misdemeanors pleaded guilty to harassment. As part of his sentence, he will speak out against hazing and stand up for the victims.

Haroldson, who advocated for the term, said victims are being blamed for the football season’s cancellation and some students’ expulsions, and instead should be recognized for their courage.

The hazing existed for years, “instilled as part of the institution,” and had gotten worse, Haroldson said.

“The coaches didn’t stop it,” he told Circuit Court Judge Locke A. Williams. “They chose not to stop it or couldn’t stop it.”

The judge noted hazing isn’t isolated to Philomath and said there must be an “understanding that this is a practice that cannot continue.”

A 22-year-old volunteer assistant coach stands charged in the county where the hazing occurred. All the coaches are on leave, Goff said.

The decision was made to cancel the varsity season after other athletes and coaches evaluated the readiness of eligible players. The junior varsity season remains on track.

Brittany Dryden, manager of Wilson’s NAPA Auto Parts store, feels the cancellation is “a little harsh.”

“I understand people make mistakes … but I don’t see why we have to punish the whole football team, and punish other people that weren’t involved, had nothing to do with it,” Dryden said. “It’s just not fair to those kids.”

Goff has a rebuttal: “High school football in Philomath is important, but it is not as important as our kids.”

Hazing might be part of human nature, and “it definitely goes back to ancient Greece and Rome,” said Susan Lipkins, a psychologist and an expert on hazing.

Victims take the experience to college and the military, primed to be hazed again and again, Lipkins said in a telephone interview from Port Washington, New York.

Over time, they often become perpetrators, feeling they “have the right to do unto others what was done to them,” Lipkins said.

Ending the cycle requires breaking the silence.

Philomath seems to be handling its case right so far, Lipkins said. To prevent hazing, schools must encourage victims to come forward, using clearly established methods like the internet and even reporting abuse anonymously so they aren’t labeled wimps.

But few high schools and colleges follow through on promises to eliminate hazing, Lipkins noted.

“They react,” she said. “They don’t prepare for it and don’t have a system in place in any meaningful way.”

More in Sports

Hydrologist Heather Best rides her fat bike in the White Mountains National Recreation Area north of Fairbanks. (Photo by Ned Rozell)
Alaska Science Forum: Wet overflow a winter hazard in Alaska

While following a snowmachine trail recently, my dog and I came to… Continue reading

As a teenager, shooting hoops was a major stress reliever for the author. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Lund)
I went to the woods: The reward of risk

One of the easiest things for athletes, coaches, former athletes, former coaches… Continue reading

Sapsucker wells on willows attract hummingbirds as well as insects. (Photo by Bob Armstrong)
On the Trails: Willows and the ecosystem

I recently found willow catkins just emerging from their bud covers, getting… Continue reading

Thunder Mountain High School’s Thomas Baxter and Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé’s Alwen Carrillo embrace at their end of Saturday’s game at JDHS that may have been the final local game between the two schools due to a consolidation of them tentatively approved by the school board starting next year. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
In Juneau’s potentially final crosstown basketball showdown, both schools win

TMHS girls and JDHS boys prevail on night filled with dual-school spirit as consolidation looms.

Thunder Mountain High School seniors for the boys’ basketball team, their families and other supporters fill the Thunderdome for a Senior Night recognition before Friday’s game against Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. It was possibly the final home game for the Falcons team due to a pending decision to put all high school students at JDHS starting with the next school year. The Falcons girls’ team will play their final home games of the season — and possibly ever — next Friday and Saturday against North Pole High School. (Screenshot from NFHS Network)
TMHS boys prevail in possibly their final home game ever against JDHS, with merger of schools pending

Girls play final home games next weekend; both local schools play each other again tonight at JDHS.

Iditarod winner Brent Sass poses for photos with lead dogs Morello, left, and Slater after winning the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Nome, Alaska, March 15, 2022. A second musher has been disqualified from the world’s most famous sled dog race. The governing body of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race said in a one-sentence statement late Thursday night, Feb. 22, 2024, that it has withdrawn 2022 champion Brent Sass just days before the start of this year’s race. (Anne Raup/Anchorage Daily News via AP)
Assault claims roil Iditarod sled dog race as 2 top mushers are disqualified, then 1 reinstated

Claims of violence against women are roiling the world’s most famous sled… Continue reading

Forest Wagner visits Kanuti Hot Springs, located in Interior Alaska not far from the Arctic Circle. (Photo by Ned Rozell)
Alaska Science Forum: Alaska hot springs, far and wide

After a few hours of skiing through deep snow, Forest Wagner and… Continue reading

Thunder Mountain High School’s Thomas Baxter (#33) takes a shot under the basket against Ketchikan High School’s Jonathan Scoblic during Saturday’s game at TMHS. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Fit to be tied: TMHS and Ketchikan split weekend games, leaving all Southeast region teams at .500

Falcons and JDHS, after splitting games last week, face each other again on Friday and Saturday.

A female varied thrush pauses to look around during her foraging bout. (Photo by Helen Unruh)
On the Trails: Early signs of spring

The ground is heavily blanketed with snow. The snow berms in my… Continue reading

Most Read