Hazing allegation ends Worcester Tech football season

Hazing allegation ends Worcester Tech football season
Alleged student-athlete safety issue forces suspension of Worcester Technical High School football teams
WORCESTER – The remainder of the Worcester Technical High School football teams season has been canceled after allegations of hazing in the teams locker room.

At least five of the football players are barred from classes pending the outcome of disciplinary hearings, which must be held after two days of emergency removal from school, to determine whether they were involved in alleged hazing incidents.

“Right now we are looking at student assault charges,” said Director of School Security Rob Pezzella in an interview Thursday night.Earlier today, the administration canceled the remaining two games of the team’s season as a result of the investigation. The hazing involved at least one video shared to social media, but officials did not elaborate on the content of the video.Administrators are still investigating, and are asking victims of hazing to come forward. In the interview, neither Pezzella nor Superintendent Maureen Binienda commented on the nature of the assault being investigated — just that it may have risen to the level of assault. Per the student handbook, the investigation could lead to long-term suspensions of students and their removal from school to special programs. Pezzella said suspension hearings will be held in the near future for the students involved.Officials started investigating on Tuesday after receiving a complaint from a guardian, according to Pezzella.

School officials became aware of an incident that they said was video recorded and posted on social media after a guardian of a football player contacted Principal Kyle Brenner on Tuesday.

Superintendent Maureen Binienda and School Safety Director Robert Pezella said they immediately took action.

School administrators declined to comment on whether or not the police would take action, saying theyve been instructed not to comment on any criminal investigation.Responding by email, Worcester Police Sgt. Kerry Hazelhurst said authorities were looking into the matter “and if at some point in this investigation, either by the school or by us, that it was determined that there was some level of criminal wrongdoing involved, then we will take the appropriate actions.”

“We sat football players down and we asked them questions,” Ms. Binienda said, adding that their investigation has shown there were assaults on students.

Mr. Pezzella said there are a combined total of more than 45 athletes on the varsity and junior varsity teams, in Grades 9 through 12.

Mr. Pezella and Ms. Binienda declined to say if the incident was sexual in nature, and they are investigating whether coaches were aware of any incidents. They couldnt say “with certainty” if older students were responsible for carrying out hazing-style activities on younger students, but said the incidents did not appear to be racially motivated.

“I actually asked a student that question, Tell me, is this a racial thing? ” Ms. Binienda said. “He said, Absolutely not. It didnt even take a second to get that answer.”

After a Thursday night meeting open only to parents of football players, one woman wept outside the school, while others consoled her and were heard apologizing for anything their children may have done. They declined to speak with a reporter.

About 22 parents attended the session, as did a prosecutor from Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr.s office, Worcester police and school officials.

Ms. Binienda said the district attorneys office will bring a specialized anti-hazing program to the school for football players and coaches to supplement training that the schools offer.

In addition, school officials are working with parents whose children may have been the victims of hazing and are trying to create an environment where they feel safe enough to come forward.

“Come forward,” Ms. Binienda said, urging students to tell a parent or an adult such as a teacher or counselor they trust. She said adults who are made aware of incidents should report them.

At least five players have been singled out for disciplinary hearings, which may involve witnesses and lawyers as they are offered due process, and there could be more students affected, Ms. Binienda said.

In the Worcester schools, cyberbullying is the No. 1 method of bullying, Mr. Pezzella said. While the video that surfaced may help investigators, it further hurts alleged victims because others may have viewed it, Ms. Binienda said.

Ms. Binienda called on those who saw the incidents unfolding to report them as well. “If you see something and you dont report it, then youre part of it,” she said. 

Worcester police Sgt. Kerry Hazelhurst said the police department is also looking into the alleged incident that led to the game cancellations. Any students who are 18 or older could be charged in court as adults under state law, he said.

“If at some point in this investigation, either by the school or by us, it was determined that there was some level of criminal wrongdoing involved, then we will take the appropriate actions,” he said.

Cancellation of the last two games of the season is disappointing beyond the walls of Worcester Tech.

Worcester Tech’s varsity team, which is 1-8 so far this year, had been scheduled to play David Prouty on Friday night and then Abby Kelley Foster Charter School on Nov. 21 for the Thanksgiving game.

Pat Rossi, coach of David Prouty’s varsity team, said he had no comment about the situation, other than to say he was “disappointed our program won’t be able to play a game this week. It’s disappointing our kids will be out a game.”

The Worcester Technical High School varsity and junior varsity football teams have been suspended for the remainder of the season as school officials investigate what has only been described as an alleged “student-athlete safety incident.”

Robert Pezzella, the Worcester Public Schools safety director, confirmed the suspension in an interview Thursday.

School officials, including the superintendent, believed it was “in the best interest of the school” to suspend the teams, he said.

The schedule for Worcester Technical High School indicates the varsity football team was going to play David Prouty High School on Friday.

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