Elk River suspends football team over hazing claim

Published 1:04 pm Thursday, August 26, 2010

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — The Elk River High School varsity football program has been suspended while the school district investigates an allegation of hazing and police pursue their own criminal probe, police said.

“We do have an open investigation. Detectives are involved with it,” said Elk River Capt. Bob Kluntz on Thursday.

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He said the district notified police about the allegation on Wednesday. Kluntz wouldn’t characterize the alleged hazing or provide further details, but said it could amount to criminal assault.

A parent of a football player made a report to school officials Wednesday which prompted administrators to start interviewing athletes and reviewing the district’s anti-hazing rules, said district spokesman Casey Mahon.

“It started coming out that there might be more to this than an isolated incident,” Mahon said Thursday. Superintendent Mark Bezek and the police were notified, he said.

All 50 members of the football team were interviewed and “based on the scope and severity of what we saw” Bezek suspended the varsity football program pending the results of the district’s investigation, Mahon said.

Bezek announced his decision Wednesday night at a meeting attended by about 200 students and athletes. In a prepared statement, he said, “I must emphasize that I am shocked and dismayed by these allegations. This district does not tolerate hazing or other unlawful activities.”

The football team is prohibited from holding organized activities pending the outcome of a comprehensive review of the program, including coaches, by an outside lawyer hired by the district on Thursday, Mahon said. He also declined to characterize the nature of the alleged hazing.

“The safety and security of our students has always been our number one priority,” Mahon said. “We are using the policies and rules and laws to guide us, but the most important thing is that kids in our schools are always safe.”

Elk River school policy broadly defines hazing as any “act against a student, or coercing a student into committing an act, that creates a substantial risk of harm to a person, in order for the student to be initiated into or affiliated with a student organization, or for any other purpose.”

Varsity head football coach Mike Cross, who is begining his sixth year in the job, said he would have no comment while the investigation was under way.

The team’s first game is scheduled for Sept. 2, when it hosts Becker. The Elks finished 2009 with a record of 1-8 and haven’t had a winning record since 2003 when they were 6-4, according to the team’s website.

Elk River is a town of about 22,000 people about 35 miles northwest of Minneapolis.