C.B. West football season canceled amid hazing allegations

Central Bucks West High School. In a letter to parents, Superintendent David Weitzel said most of the players took part in actions that he described as "offensive and disrespectful."
Central Bucks West High School. In a letter to parents, Superintendent David Weitzel said most of the players took part in actions that he described as "offensive and disrespectful." (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 25, 2014

The Central Bucks School District on Thursday canceled the rest of the football season at Central Bucks West High School after it said it learned that players had subjected rookies to "humiliating" hazing in a preseason initiation.

In a letter to parents, Superintendent David Weitzel said an investigation determined that new players on the Doylestown-based team had been required to grab the private parts of other players, while fully clothed in front of the rest of the team. He said most of the players took part in the activity, which he called "offensive and disrespectful."

The superintendent also faulted players who he said did not participate but witnessed the activities, and a coaching staff he said failed to supervise the teens. "Swift and firm action is absolutely necessary," Weitzel said.

James Donnelly, chief of the Central Bucks Regional Police Department, said his office had launched an investigation.

School officials notified police only Wednesday about the hazing claims, Donnelly said. The allegations included rumors of what students described as "waterboarding," but what Donnelly said sounded more liked teens being placed under showers with towels over their heads.

He said he was concerned about the allegations in the superintendent's letter.

"The letter was pretty damning and contains some pretty scary information," Donnelly said. "We don't know if it was just kids horsing around or if it was more serious, but we're going to investigate."

Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler said in an interview that his office had been in contact with Donnelly about the allegations, and that county investigators "will certainly provide assistance" if Donnelly requested it.

The claims emerged just a few days after a Sayreville, N.J., high school also shut down its football program and suspended the coach and his assistants over claims of player hazing. That case has led to the arrest of seven players.

The Central Bucks West team, nicknamed the Bucks, had a 2-6 record this season, a down year for a storied program. Head coach Brian Hensel did not respond to a phone call and e-mail seeking comment. Hensel, a chemistry teacher at the high school, is in his sixth season leading the team.

The team had just two more games on its schedule, but one was a Homecoming game Friday night against rival Central Bucks East.

"We're sick about it up here," said Brian O'Connell, whose son was a Bucks offensive lineman last year. "It's meant the world to a lot of kids, my son included."

O'Connell said he knew about preseason rituals, but never saw evidence of extreme hazing. "They had a tradition of cutting hair, like a Marine and pretty badly done, and that was OK," he said.

The Central Bucks district, which has nearly 20,000 students, cuts a huge swath across the county and includes three high schools, five middle schools, and 15 elementary schools. It has been one of the state's top performers in academics and athletics.

Weitzel promised that more details would be released at a school board meeting next week. His letter said the allegations came to light Oct. 14.

Three days later, school principal Jason Bucher sent an e-mail to West football parents saying the school had reviewed allegations of player mistreatment and found there had been no "intentional mistreatment," according to a copy obtained by The Inquirer.

The superintendent's letter suggested otherwise. In it, he called the hazing "humiliating," "inappropriate," and "personally invasive," specifically citing the crotch-grabbing.

"I want to be clear that these activities did not result in physical harm, but were not harmless," the superintendent said. He apologized to any football player subjected to "demeaning actions of fellow players who should have served as role models."

School Board President Paul Faulkner declined to comment but said he would have more information soon, possibly on Friday.

As news of the decision spread Thursday afternoon and reporters swarmed around the school, police guarded the perimeter of the campus. At 5:30 p.m., as the freshman football team finished practice in a field across from the school, police and TV crews flanked the players as they jogged back to their lockers.

Nicole Boyer, mother of a senior lineman, was upset by the decision. She said only students directly involved in the hazing should be disciplined. "The people who were not involved are being punished for things they didn't do," Boyer said.

The superintendent didn't agree.

"Players who did not directly participate, but witnessed and failed to report the activities, also violated the Code of Conduct," his letter said. Now, Weitzel said, said the school will be "re-instructing" players and coaches on every team about the code.

"There will be no exceptions when it comes to compliance," he said. "Appropriate team-building activities cannot be permitted to spiral out of control and become hazing. As educators, we must do what is right for all of our students, who deserve to be treated with dignity and with respect."

The news stirred mixed responses across social media.

"To all west football players," senior lineman Brian Miller wrote in a tweet, "we need to stick together through the undoubtable worst days of our lives. I love you all like family."

On Facebook, parent Deana DePaul Herbert wrote: "It's a shame but glad the district took this seriously. You know it is serious when football is stopped. Seems like the biggest thing in all high schools is football!"

Quakertown Superintendent William Harner, whose high school team beat West two weeks ago, called the situation tragic for the hazing victims and the school.

"It's a lose-lose situation all the way around," he said.

Harner said he faced a hazing problem when he was a high school principal in South Carolina. He said coaches often are aware of the hazing but believe it creates bonds. "Parents send their kids to school, and they expect the administration, the faculty, the coaches all will do the right thing for their children," he said.

For years, West had one of the most successful football programs in the country. Under legendary coach Mike Pettine, who retired in 2000, the Bucks went 326-42-4, winning four PIAA Class AAAA state championships and compiling a 45-game winning streak - one that ultimately stretched to 59 games.

Many of the stars of those teams went on to coaching success, including Pettine's son Mike Jr. This season, he is in his first year as head coach of the NFL's Cleveland Browns after spending time as an assistant with the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, and Baltimore Ravens.

Mike Carey, a star player and coach at the high school, was stunned by the news.

"I literally feel sick to my stomach right now," he said in an interview. "For something like this to happen at such a storied program, it's mind-boggling."


Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Mike Sielski, Rick O'Brien, and Jessica Parks.

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