As a recently retired, 30-year high school football coach and teachers’ union representative, I have always been concerned about the lack of leadership exhibited by higher-level administrators and school districts on the issue of hazing.
Eliminating hazing starts with the head football coach, but if high school administrators don’t do their part, hazing incidents will continue to happen.
There are a number of concerns that both football coaches and school administrators must address in this context.
1. The coaching landscape in high school sports has changed dramatically over the last three decades. The days are gone when most coaches were also teachers or employees at their schools. As such, the proliferation of “walk-on coaches” has reduced the number of adults who are responsible for supervising locker rooms and adjacent areas before and after practices.
2. Further complicating the problem, is the fact that the position of locker room attendant has been eliminated in many school districts. This includes the school district I worked in for most of my career in Southern California. As school employees, locker room attendants always took ownership of the locker room. Consequently, they were an active, visible authority figure in a supervisory position. This discouraged hazing on school grounds.
3. In high school athletic facilities today, locker rooms are often left open after school so student-athletes can enter and leave when necessary. Not all practices begin and end at the same time, resulting in an unsupervised locker room filled with student-athletes differing in age and competing in different sports.
Where is the football coaching staff while the locker room is left unsupervised? With the exception of head football coaches, most assistant coaches are not high school employees and do not have secured access to school facilities. (This can be a liability in emergency drills, by the way.)
These unsupervised locker room facilities, before and after football practices, are ripe with the potential for hazing. They are a ticking clock.
4. Another problem centers on design of current facilities. Aging school athletic facilities are often not “supervision-friendly” from a design standpoint. Even modern design work only provides a cursory nod to supervision
I recently saw this during the construction of a new athletic facility built at a local high school. It is a beautiful facility, but it fails miserably in terms of monitoring student-athletes and preventing situations conducive to misbehavior.
Designing an athletic facility to address these supervision concerns would have been easy had any of the school’s sport coaches been consulted during facility planning and design.
Two summers ago, a local high school coach was disciplined due to a hazing incident that occurred involving one of his team’s student-athletes. At the time the incident occurred, this coach was attending a mandatory staff meeting with the school’s principal.
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The school administration did not take any responsibility for the unsupervised incident, and the disciplined coach has since transferred to another school. A similar incident happened at another California high school last summer.
Schools and coaches must think big-picture about hazing, especially when criminal charges, civil lawsuits and professional reputations are on the line. In many circumstances, solutions would be easy to implement.
This article is by Rey Hernandez, who coached football for more than 30 years before retiring in 2019. He is a long-time AFCA member and currently lives in San Diego, Calif.