Postmortem on Joliet West girls soccer hazing incident
May 24, 2012 6:34PM
Joliet West's Marlon Johnson rises for a dunk. | Larry Kane~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 29, 2012 8:08AM
Earlier this month, Joliet West conducted a national letter-of-intent signings ceremony.
Everything was positive. Outstanding student-athletes were honored for their accomplishments as Tigers. Their coaches related stories exemplifying how their proteges were special as athletes but more important as people.
The honorees included softball catcher Bri Thompson, girls basketball point guard Khadija Cooley, boys basketball players Marlon Johnson and Brian Edwards, football running back SaVaughn Alexander and baseball center fielder Jeff Gersch.
Two other high-caliber seniors — football, wrestling and baseball standout Matt Koran and state tennis qualifier and football lineman Collin Shea — were among those who attended to support their classmates.
Coincidentally, the story of the hazing incident involving a girl being wrapped in plastic during the Joliet West girls soccer team’s weekend trip to play in Freeport was fresh in everyone’s mind. The incident led to a police investigation, though Freeport Deputy Chief Jeff Davis told me last week the investigation is complete and the case is closed from the police perspective.
Matt Troha, assistant executive director of the IHSA, said hazing is something member schools never have wanted bylaws to cover, and because no bylaws were broken, the IHSA does not get involved.
“Drinking, smoking, hazing, the schools want all that under their personal conduct codes,” he said. “Schools pretty much handle that by themselves.”
That is what has happened in this case. The District 204 Extra-Curriculum Participation Code was violated, and player and coach suspensions resulted.
A Chicago television station covered the story. The players involved, the girls soccer program, the school and District 204 received a black eye.
Social networking being what it is, incidents of this nature are not “off the record” the way they used to be. More than likely, whatever the transgression, pictures and/or video will be out there for everyone to see and evaluate. That doesn’t make the incidents more right or wrong than they ever were. But I wonder if such potential exposure might convince kids to think more seriously about the repercussions before they go about acting, well, like kids.
The night of the signing ceremony I talked with several of those quality West seniors who are involved in sports to get their take on the effect of what happened. Their comments follow.
Cooley: “The girls were trying to have a good time, and they really didn’t realize the severity of their actions. I feel what happened let me down, let us all down. They said they wanted to have fun, not anything bad was intended. I feel bad for them.”
Edwards: Joliet West has more to offer than what this incident shows. We like to show what our school is really about. We are proud of this school. I guess the rule should be, ‘Don’t say or do what you wouldn’t say or do in front of your mom or your coach.’ ”
Johnson: “That’s not what our school is about. The girls involved didn’t want to hurt anyone.”
Koran: “It’s a tough situation that happens in certain scenarios. The girls involved are good girls. With all the good going on, it’s too bad the focus gets put on negatives. Our school gets put in a bad light.”
Shea: “I don’t know that it was a huge problem. One person reported it, and it was blown out to be maybe bigger than it was. I can see how they felt it wasn’t wrong. Something goes on in every sport but doesn’t always go public, and whether to that extreme, I don’t know. The school did what it had to do in this situation.
“Coach (Jeff) Lundeen (the girls soccer coach) was one my favorite teachers at West. It’s hard for a coach to have control of an entire team every second. The girls weren’t trying to do anything wrong. They thought it was all in good fun. They’re all taking it hard.”
Thompson: “I’m really close to a lot of the girls. It’s really a sad situation. It’s sad they have to deal with the consequences. It’s hard to see friends going through that. Joliet West is a great community and school. It’s nice to have a night like this and show a lot of the great things here.”
The common theme is good kids played the “kids will be kids” card and were involved in an activity they would like to take back, but can’t. What begins as fun may turn into something quite different.
The silver lining could be the lesson the kids learned, or perhaps the lesson learned by those who will come after them, not only in the girls soccer program at West, but in every athletic program at every area school. Let’s hope that is the case.