SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — A former swimmer at a southwestern Missouri university says hazing that he and others endured during his freshman year left him with physical and mental injuries that ended his athletic career.
The allegations from Evan Petrich, 18, were confirmed Monday night by Drury University Director of Athletics Mark Fisher, who said during a news conference that the school in Springfield has toughened its hazing policy, the Springfield News-Leader reported (http://sgfnow.co/2jvERPR ).
Petrich said the abuse occurred during an "initiation week" in September 2015 when he and other freshmen swimmers were taken blindfolded to a home and held in a basement while being forced to drink alcohol until some vomited and others nearly blacked out. At other times, they were hit by dodgeballs while naked, forced to watch pornographic movies and were asked to "rank" female swimmers by their looks, he said.
He said he's being treated for conversion disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the hazing.
The school investigated after Petrich complained to Tijuana Julian, the school's dean of students after the 2015-16 school year. Members of the swim team were interviewed and corroborated Petrich's story, Fisher and Julian said.
"We had enough things that were confirmed that he told us, I think there were enough common things that we found there was a policy violation," Julian said.
In response, the school, which has about 3,600 students, increased its penalties for hazing and said in a statement that it "would not tolerate such behavior among student-athletes." The policies have been in effect since last fall but received renewed attention after Petrich discussed the hazing on his Facebook page and in media interviews last week.
The changes include educational programming for all student-athletes. Penalties for a first-violation hazing will increase from 20 community service hours to 40, and the fine will now be $200 instead of $100. For a second violation, punishment will range from suspension for one semester to expulsion.
Petrich doesn't believe the new policies are strong enough.
"With this, the school is tolerating it," Petrich said. "They are just saying, 'Oh, do it once, but just don't do it again. Or if you do it again, make sure we don't know about it.'"
Both Fisher and Julian defended allowing a second violation before a possible suspension or expulsion.
"We understand that there will be people out there who will think that we were too lenient, but there also will be people who maybe feel like we were too difficult on them," Fisher said.
Another hazing accusation in 2009 cost the men's swimming program a midseason training trip to Hawaii.
Although Fisher said he believed if longtime swimming coach Brian Reynolds or other coaches knew about the hazing they would have stopped it, he declined to say if anyone was disciplined, saying it was a personnel issue.
Information from: Springfield News-Leader, http://www.news-leader.com