Mepham Hazing: entering that slippery slope of morality
[See extended entry for links to all the previous coverage of this story. This is another long one, but worth reading (I think) for the latest developments. Basically, that Bellmore is one town that is serious lacking in the moral development department.]
I thought that after a while the media coverage would die down. I thought that things would return as close to normal as possible and the Mepham hazing would become another page 12 story, past headlines forgotten.
I was wrong, and I'm glad I was wrong. I'm happy to see that - especially after last night's stomach-turning performance at the school board meeting - the national media is still covering this story.
Let's deal with this story in two parts today.
First, let's deal with the good news:
Pennsylvania State Police Wednesday night recommended filing nine juvenile charges each against three Mepham High School varsity football players accused of sexually abusing three younger teammates at a training camp near Scranton, Pa., in August.
The nine charges are:
* Aggravated Assault
* Simple Assault
* Reckless Endangering of Another Person
* Unlawful Restraint
* Criminal Coercion
* Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse
* Aggravated Indecent Assault
* Criminal Conspiracy to all the above crimes
If you've been keeping up with this story, you know already what went on that night. Or do you?
"These acts involved the use of threats, beatings and then sexual assaults, which included the use of foreign objects with mineral ice on them," state police said.
The mineral ice was not mentioned before this. It may seem trivial at this point, but it's not. It brings the abuse up a level. Let's call it torture.
One of the accused players is a 17-year-old senior, the other two are juniors, both who are now 16.
Players and other sources say the senior is considered a leader on the team who hoped to use his football skills as an offensive/defensive tackle to earn a college scholarship. He is a Boy Scout and his family is active in the Theodore Roosevelt Boy Scout Council.
The more this story goes on, the more we know about the accused players. We know that they are good boys, good leaders, they love their parents and their community and they spend their weekends reading to orphans. The longer this saga drags on, the more we will hear how these boys are really just the pillar of the community. Surely, this "hazing" was just a little game gone wrong.
And what did the superintendent of schools have to say about the forthcoming charges?
Superintendent of Schools Thomas Caramore said he was pleased that charges appear imminent. "I'm glad," he said Wednesday night near the end of a three-hour raucous board meeting. "I'm pleased that it seems the process is moving towards a conclusion."
Translated: Let's get this damn thing over and done with before any more damage is done to the school's repuation.
The Board Meeting
I was trying to cover this story as a reporter would. If I did my homework I would have known there was a school board meeting last night in Bellmore and I would have taken my camera and my notebook and went over there.
I'm glad I didn't. And this is why I would never make a good member of the mainstream media: I get too emtional. Had I been present last night, I probably would have started a brawl.
However, what I saw on the news last night, what I heard from some in attendance, and what I've been reading today has changed my mind. Bellmore is a community that has lost all sense of priorities.
In a 700-seat auditorium with media flanking the aisles, the board heard angry demands from some parents that Principal John Didden and the five football coaches be fired, and heard impassioned speeches from former players and students supporting them.
A misleading statement. The crowd was overwhelmingly in support of the coaches. Only one person - that's right, just one person - spoke up for any of the victims:
While most of the speakers supported the school's administration, one the more emotional moments of the night came when a family friend read a statement from one of the victims and his mother.
"My son is just as upset with the coaches as with the perpetrators," Jim Rullo of North Merrick said, quoting the boy's mother."I kept thinking they were coming to help me," Rullo said, speaking for the victim, "but they never came.
If someone only had the power to put a gag order on the town of Bellmore, perhaps they could salvage what is left of the community's reputation. As long as people keep talking, the reputation gets worse:
...[S]everal former players rallied around the man they call "Coach Mac" last night, saying he has changed students' lives.
"Your son or daughter will be a better person for having been taught or coached by Coach McElroy," said Brian Mulligan, 27, a 1994 Mepham graduate.
Well, Brian, your statement has retroactively been proved worthless. You have three boys, the victims, who are not better people for having been taught by Coach Mac. You have three boys -the accused - who are not better people for it. You have fifteen players - the witnesses who said or did nothing - who are not better people because of Coach Mac.
Two senior girls stood outside the auditorium handing out green ribbons to all those who entered. The ribbons are part of a school effort to show support for the victims.
Now, that's sweet. Someone cares, right?
[School principal]Didden "is the one person who really takes time to get to know all of the students," said one of the girls, who did not want to be identified.
So much for supporting the victims.
To get the real feel for what went on at this meeting, we turn to Newsday's Paul Vitello. He writes of standing ovations from the overfill audience at last night's meeting. The man who cried "Ethics begins at home!" The parents who stood up and blasted the media, the Superintendent of schools who said that responsibility for the attacks should be shared - thunderous standing ovations, all of them.
And when Jim Rullo, the only one who spoke for the victims, stood up to give his little speech, stood in front of that crowd and said that the boys had lost trust in the system, and the parents of the boys feel their children were left unprotected -
The people in the crowd applauded. They applauded firmly.
They did not offer Rullo, however, one of the standing ovations that they reserved for defenders of everything at Mepham that had nothing to do with those three abused children.
After all this time, there is noone, save Jim Rullo, who is speaking out for the victims. While the kids of the school act the part of concerned fellow students and hand out little green ribbons showing their support, they are then turning their backs on the very kids they claim to be showing support for by doing this:
Meanwhile, some students are trying to save the principal's job. They are gathering signatures on a petition. So far, more than 700 people have signed.
No, the principal did not assault those students. But he is guilty as charged. He is guilty for letting this get out of hand. He is guilty of protecting his coaching staff, who should not have been afforded that protection. He is guilty of letting the silence go on. He is guilty of abandonment, by protecting his school and his staff at all costs and leaving the victims out in the cold, thus adding to their misery. He is guilty of running a school that produces students who rally around the criminals instead of the victims.
The longer this story goes on, the more my anger turns to loathing, the more my sadness turns to rage.
These people are my neighbors. I go to the same pediatrician as them, shop in the same supermarkets, eat in the same restaurants. I am ashamed of them, ashamed of their attitudes.
The parents, the students, the coaches, the administration from top to bottom; they have all forgotten the reason that criminal charges are going to be filed. There was a crime - several crimes - committed.
I dont' see any rallies on behalf of the victims. I don't see any rallies against the administration. I just see parents who are teaching their children all the wrong things, all the wrong moral standards. I see no future for a community that is being raised by such people. I see no hope for a school whose administration is so selfish, so into self-protectionism that they forget they are responsible for children. I see only mob mentality and the shocking revelation that my next-town neighbors are seriously lacking in the morality department.