DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (AP) — A high school football coach suspended amid hazing allegations received overwhelming support Tuesday night during a raucous school board meeting in which parents accused the district of rushing to judgment in canceling the remainder of the team's season, a move the district said was a tough but necessary action.
In a meeting that occurred five days after Central Bucks High School West saw the final two games of its football season canceled and all of its coaches suspended, district officials praised the team's head coach, Brian Hensel, but stood by their decision as an investigation into the alleged hazing continues.
Superintendent David Weitzel said last week that players had engaged in pre-season hazing that included a requirement that rookies grab another player's genitals. He said another initiation rite involved placing towels over players' heads, leading them into the shower and throwing powder on rookies after they were wet down. Weitzel said both occurred while players were fully clothed.
District Attorney David Heckler said Tuesday he had so far been presented with no evidence of criminal conduct. But he asked parents of players subjected to hazing to contact him if they believe their children suffered any physical harm or "inappropriate mental stress or embarrassment."
Weitzel said at the meeting, held in a nearly-filled auditorium, that rookies were subjected to what he described as silly haircuts by other players at the end of a picnic, which followed a scrimmage. The haircuts, he said, were part of an annual tradition, but they led to hazing that he said was serious.
"None of this would be occurring if this were simply about haircuts," Weitzel said, noting that no adults were with the players when the alleged hazing took place.
Tensions ran high as some parents expressed displeasure with how the situation has been handled and accused the district of tarnishing the reputation of the school outside Philadelphia and its football coaches in a "reckless rush to judgment."
"I received multiple calls from coaches, the first thing they asked (was), 'How's your son doing, anything I can do?'" said Ed Shields, who has two players on the team. "I've yet to receive a call from an administrator."
Gabriel Shults, a football player who graduated in 2013, spoke highly of Hensel and said he would have disciplined players if he knew hazing was occurring.
"There's no way that if he knew about this, that he wouldn't act accordingly," Shults said.
Joe Wade, a coach speaking on behalf of the assistants, said the coaches didn't condone the alleged actions of the players, which didn't reflect the team or the coaching staff.
"The reputation of this great and storied program has been harmed by untrue allegations of severe misconduct that happened on our watch," Wade said. "None of the conduct that occurred was severe, it was foolish, and none of it occurred on our watch."
Hensel, who was greeted by hugs at the meeting, did not speak, but he issued a statement earlier Tuesday in which he said his players made mistakes but didn't intend to hurt others.
"With strong emphasis, I will not make — nor accept — any excuse for any wrongful acts that took place in our locker room," he wrote.