Homecoming game back on after Niles North team cleared of allegations of hazing

Skokie Police found no criminal activity by players

Homecoming game back on after Niles North team cleared of allegations of hazing

Eleanor Kaplan and May Paddor

The fate of the homecoming game on Friday, Oct. 6 was unclear after seniors on the Niles North football team were accused of hazing underclassmen.

Niles North Principal James Edwards took the team off suspension on Monday Oct. 2 after the Skokie Police Department and school officials finished their investigation.

“It was determined no criminal conduct took place,” according to a statement released by Niles North school officials.

Niles North will play against New Trier in their first game back.

However, suspensions of individual players may still occur, according to the letter.

Although no criminal conduct took place, the school district will take “appropriate action to address the conduct determined to have taken place.”

The conduct that took place has not been discussed in detail. Niles North Varsity Football Coach Mike Garoppolo did not return a request for  comment.

In its statement Niles North said, “This last week has been a difficult one for our school community, but I am proud of the way we have come together. We were determined to act in the most proactive and thorough manner possible.”

During their week-long suspension, Niles North had to forfeit their game against Maine South on Sep. 28. The team currently has a record of 2-3.

Despite the uncertainty of the homecoming game, the New Trier varsity football team remained positive. “We are all in great spirits and excited to represent New Trier for the rest of this year,” said captain Max Kaufman and senior Wilson MacRitchie in a collaborative response.

Spirit Week has continued as usual, according to Pep Club sponsor Bridget Butterly. The only change to the homecoming agenda this year is that the Pep Club festival that used to take place on the front lawn will now be in the gyms.

“We will have an inflatable obstacle course, photo booth, Dip ‘N Dots, neon lounge furniture, and alternative options for students going to the dance,” said Butterly.

While the police investigation was ongoing, several alternative plans for the game arose. These included a possible field hockey game against North Shore Country Day School or a boys soccer game against Stevenson High School.

Most schools have an athletic code or protocol when it comes to bullying or hazing incidents, said varsity head coach Brian Doll. The Niles Township Extracurricular Code of Conduct states, “Hazing and bullying activities are strictly prohibited; failure to abide by it [The Code of Conduct] could result in removal from the activity.”

Possible disciplinary measures can range from a call to the parents to expulsion and arrest, depending on the severity of the offense.

New Trier captains emphasized that hazing would not happen on their team. “We all have respect for each other as teammates and the thought of these types of actions occurring on our team is non-existent,” said Kaufman and MacRitchie.

Hazing is not uncommon in high schools nationwide and certaintly not in Illinois. According to the Chicago Tribune, hazing was a regular occurrence for the football players of Lake Zurich High School for the last twenty years.

Allegations of “sexual assault and acts of degradation” at Lake Zurich were ignored by the coach and administration until two alleged victims filed a federal lawsuit against the district due to an event that took place in Oct. 2016.

Hazing has also happened on local college teams. Five football players were arrested on Sep. 17 at Wheaton College for a hazing incident that occurred in March 2016.

In response to the allegations at Niles North, Doll addressed his team about hazing. “It’s important to educate our players on all the important things that are happening and make sure they feel safe at all times. It’s important to have a program that’s doing things the right way,” said Doll.

These conversations are not taken lightly. “Doll reiterated a message that hazing or any other type of harassment with anybody on the team was unacceptable and not what New Trier football stood for,” said Kaufman and MacRitchie. “We have been working hard this year to build positive team chemistry and it’s something we are very proud of.”