Beating kids with boat oars

Published June 15, 2012 by justicewg

If you are a long time resident of Grandview Heights, you might remember that there used to be some rough hazing going on in the schools. This was not some long ago era, it was less than 15 years ago.

Hazing was a little different from bullying, it had the approval of the school administration. The fact that hazing was a tradition allowed a defense of the practice, “that’s the way we do things around here” can lead to the continuation of some really bad ideas.

I’ve been in contact with Brian Cook, a former school board member in Grandview. He was interested in the bullying issues we are currently having, and because he also spent 8 years as the City Attorney before being elected to the board, he had a close view of the problems bullying and hazing caused in our city. The following is what he remembers about some pretty bad hazing incidents.

One of the reasons why I decided to run for a seat on the BOE was to improve how our district treated at-risk students, including students who were bullied. As the city’s law director during the previous 8 years, I had become familiar with several disturbing incidents at the high school that put the safety of students at risk and, in my opinion, were not handled properly by the principal and the superintendent. In fact, one of the issues during the campaign in the summer of 1997 was the frequency of student hazing that was occurring in the community, and I stated publically that the administration was wrong by turning a blind eye to it. Graduating seniors (young men) were chasing and capturing incoming freshman boys and paddling (beating) them with boat oars, sometimes until they were bruised and/or bleeding. I think I still have newspaper articles about the hazing incidents that appeared in both the Dispatch and Tri-Village News.

One of the first policies that I introduced as a newly elected board member was an anti-hazing policy that was intended to provide overall protection to students and end some school traditions, such as “Slave Day” (senior students were able to choose freshman students and enslave them for a day) and “senior hit day” (underclassman football players were initiated by having to stand and endure full-blown body tackles by the seniors on the team). Slave Day in particular was very disturbing to me. I recall one incident where a freshman slave was bound and gagged with duct tape, thrown into the trunk of a car and driven at a high rate of speed through the streets of Grandview by his senior master. This policy passed with a 4-1 vote. The high school principal resigned shortly thereafter and we replaced him with Steve Allen, who grew up in an orphanage. He quickly, in my opinion, restored a safe atmosphere in the high school and held students, teachers and coaches accountable.

Brian Cook, June 2012

I can almost imagine the logic that was used to allow boat oars to be wielded in hazing. The ritual probably started with a short weapon, maybe ping pong paddles. Then some genius realized that canoes were moved with something that was also called a paddle. And if that was OK, then 6 foot boat oars must good, and were both terrifying and dangerous, which added to the cool factor. The bit about the duct taping and dumping in the trunk of the car is a major WTF, I don’t even see how that fits into a “slave” relationship. Obviously the practice had degenerated into a competition to see who could do the most horrifying abuse without engaging in real physical torture.

The paddling and other physical mistreatment that occurs in hazing sends the wrong message to children, how can administrators maintain the line that bullying is wrong, when they also allow ritualized abuse? There is also a legal minefield opened up when there is any approval shown for hazing, the school becomes a target for the percentage of blame. In a wrongful death suit, this could be a crippling cost for the school. All of this is pretty obvious, the puzzling question is why the abolishing of hazing didn’t happen years before.

The hazing that was common in the old days has been stopped. By the time my kids were in high school the stories about the old days of hazing were just brought out to scare freshman, and to remind them that they had it good.

Mr. Cook and others who worked for the end of hazing had some push-back, as evidenced by the board member who didn’t vote for it. Ultimately what ended hazing was a community wide acceptance that “that’s the way we do things here” is a poor argument that leads to much suffering for no good reason. If it is possible for an entire community to grow up and have more respect for each other, then Grandview can be credited for making big steps in the right direction.

I’m sure that the parents of the kids who are bullying in the school right now are using the line “that’s the ways kids are”. Maybe this is true. It’s not an excuse to do nothing about bullying. If the results of eliminating hazing is an indication, working harder to deal with bullying can be worth the effort.

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