LEECHBURG, Pa. (AP) — A western Pennsylvania high school basketball team can play while police investigate alleged hazing-related assaults over the last decade, a school board decided.
The Leechburg Area School Board also voted to hire an independent law firm to review the allegations.
The decisions came at meeting that drew more than 100 parents, school staff and players. The overflow crowd forced Tuesday night's meeting into the auditorium of Leechburg Junior-Senior High School, about 30 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
Leechburg police Chief Mike Diebold has characterized the incidents as "assaults," and said they involved use of a stick and had sexual connotations. The chief has said the current alleged victims were treated less severely than those in the past, without elaborating, before issuing a statement Tuesday.
"The investigation has made apparent that these allegations come from a pattern of behavior that can only be described as a disturbing and shocking hazing tradition," the statement said. "Countless hours of interviews" have "added validity to the allegations," according to the statement.
Two players who have allegedly been victimized remain in school and have spoken to investigators.
"I can't go into detail, but they're not doing well," their attorney, Timothy Schweers said.
Three team members, including team captain Jon Burtick, addressed the board asking that the team not be suspended. They're set to play top-seeded Monessen in the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League playoffs on Tuesday.
"We are very hopeful that the investigation will get to the bottom of each and every allegation and ultimately to the truth of this situation," Burtick said. "Regardless of what decision you make tonight, you cannot break this team."
"We all feel like we are on trial," said Cory Nulph, another player.
Coach Damian Davies has called the allegations "sensationalism" and said the issue was addressed when some players were suspended by the district two weeks ago.
The police became involved when the parent of an alleged victim contacted a state child abuse hotline.
Interim school Superintendent Frank Prazenica said the allegations involve only the boys' varsity team. Eighteen boys play for the varsity and junior varsity program in the school district of about 800 students.
School district officials aren't commenting on the allegations or the investigation.
This story has been corrected to say that the Leechburg Area School District, not its junior-senior high school, has about 800 students.