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Editorial: Maine West High School allegations are worse than hazing

Exterior Maine West High School Des Plaines Illinois November 20 2012. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

Exterior of Maine West High School in Des Plaines, Illinois on November 20, 2012. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: January 1, 2013 6:25AM

If young athletes at Maine West High School were indeed sodomized by older classmates, let’s call it what it was: criminal sexual abuse.

It’s important to stress up front that we are discussing only allegations. Nothing has been established in a court of law.

But it’s dismaying to hear the tearing off of young athletes’ underwear, the grabbing of testicles and sodomy with sticks or fingers described by some officials as “hazing” or “bullying.”

We’ll wait for the legal system to establish the facts at Maine West. But it’s never too early to point out that the alleged actions at the school went far beyond hazing or bullying.

Four families have joined a lawsuit against Maine Township High School District 207 that includes two soccer coaches as defendants.

They say sexual abuse has been occurring as part of rituals at the school for as long as six years.

The original complaint was filed last week on behalf of a 14-year-old athlete who says he was attacked in September by older team members. Three soccer team members subsequently joined the complaint. Police have charged six students as juveniles with misdemeanor battery and hazing. Allegations reportedly now involve the baseball, soccer, swimming and water polo teams.

The lawsuit alleges abuse was “part of the soccer team’s culture” and was “sanctioned by its coaches for years.” Des Plaines police were told the school’s varsity soccer coach watched an assault on the school campus in July.

School authorities constantly must battle typical hazing and bullying, and it’s unrealistic to believe such activity can be stamped out.

The same can’t be said for sexual abuse. Anyone responsible for high school students has a duty to be constantly vigilant. Enough sexual abuse scandals, from Penn State to the Catholic Church, have been in the headlines that there’s no excuse for shrugging off any signs or looking the other way.

It’s also important that adults send clear signals to student athletes — who take their cues from coaches and other authority figures — that the only acceptable culture on a team is one of mutual support.

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