PHILADELPHIA -- A second high school football team's season has come to an abrupt halt after allegations rookie players were subjected to what officials called humiliating and inappropriate initiation rites.
The cancellation of the remaining two football games at Central Bucks High School West in suburban Philadelphia comes just weeks after the football season at Sayreville War Memorial High School in neighboring New Jersey ended over a hazing investigation. Five coaches were suspended there and criminal charges are pending against seven players.
In announcing the cancellation at Central Bucks, Superintendent David Weitzel said in a letter Thursday to the school district community that players engaged in pre-season hazing at the school in Doylestown that included a requirement that rookies grab another player's genitals while fully clothed, an initiation that was carried out in front of most team members.
"Our inquiry determined that students new to the team were expected to participate in several initiations that were both humiliating and inappropriate," Weitzel wrote. "I want to be clear that these activities did not result in physical harm, but were not harmless."
All varsity and junior varsity coaches were also suspended pending further investigation, the superintendent said, citing the failure of staff to properly supervise team activities. Police said they would investigate whether any of the activity was criminal.
Junior Reid Mancada told CBS Philly he thinks the district is overreacting.
"It isn't as repulsive as it sounded," he said. "I know kids on the team and everyone was furious."
Other students told CBS Philly the hazing that went on was well known in the school.
"That's been a tradition for a while," said Grace Bendon. "Whether or not it was a good tradition, obviously not, bad choices, but I don't think they're bad people."
The school's storied football program includes a run of four state titles in the 1990s, when it regularly appeared in USA Today's national Top 10 rankings.
Its alumni include Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine Jr. and two of his assistants. Pettine's father built the school's football dynasty with a 327-42-4 record from 1967-1999. The school's most famous dropout is Alecia Moore, better known as the singer Pink.
More recently, the football team has struggled and is 2-6 this year. It was scheduled to play rival Central Bucks East in a homecoming matchup Friday night.
Weitzel said hazing allegations were first reported to the district on Oct. 14.
Central Bucks Regional Police Department Chief James Donnelly said the school's principal had told him that one of the initiation rites involved placing towels over players' heads and leading them into the shower. Donnelly said players referred to the practice as "waterboarding," but that he didn't view it as fitting the definition. Waterboarding is a form of torture in which water is poured over a cloth placed on a victim's face to simulate drowning.
The district code of student conduct has banned hazing and similar activities for the past decade, and Weitzel apologized to those players who were "subjected to the demeaning actions of fellow players who should have served as role models."
Weitzel said the majority of players were in violation "through their offensive and disrespectful actions in what were supposed to be pre-season, team-building activities." Players who did not participate, but witnessed the activities and failed to report them, also violated the student code, he said.
"Appropriate team-building activities cannot be permitted to spiral out of control and become hazing," Weitzel said.