Recent court cases involving allegations of abuse among past Milton High School football teams has reintroduced the issue of hazing to the public. The Burlington Free Press asked two local high school coaches — Kelly McClintock, the field hockey and girls lacrosse coach at Rice Memorial High School, and Dean Corkum, the high school boys lacrosse coach at Essex High School — about how they deal with the issue and what they do to combat it.
BURLINGTON FREE PRESS: How do you define hazing?
KELLY MCCLINTOCK: An act in which members of the team make the new players do something that humiliates them or hurts them physically or emotionally in order into initiate them onto the team.
DEAN CORKUM: Hazing is anytime someone is forced to do something that could cause physical or emotional harm. The question always comes up, how do you know if something is hazing? I ask kids, “do you want me there during team activities?” If the answer is no, chances are it is an inappropriate activity.
BFP: What has changed in reference to hazing since you began coaching? (McClintock has coached at Rice for four years and Corkum at Essex for 24 years)
KM: Every sports season at our school coaches are required to read the players information about hazing and at the end we sign a paper saying we went over it and talked about it for that season. From the first year I have coached to now, parts of what is written on the hazing policy has changed, I think, as we become more educated in all of what hazing really can include.
DC: The biggest change is awareness of hazing. Asking kids to carry goals, get water, pick up cones is not hazing. In order to create a good team culture, everyone carries goals, gets water and picks up cones. We used to take the approach that boys are being boys. I think the hazing at UVM really helped bring the issue to the forefront. It helped all high school programs confront hazing. When the dust settled, many lessons had been learned.
(The 1999-2000 men’s hockey season at the University of Vermont was cut short amid a hazing scandal.)
BFP: Do you put any restrictions on your team to avoid hazing and if so, what are they?
KM: We have a discussion the beginning of every season as soon as the teams are made about hazing. I make sure that we have junior varsity and varsity together for the discussion to ensure that we are one program, and it should be happening to no one, no matter what level they play. I have one of the players read to the rest of the team a document of hazing, what it is, what it can look like, and consequences if hazing takes place. I then ask if there are any questions and we have a player sign the sheet saying we went over the hazing policy.
I work incredibly hard to create a team environment in which everyone feels welcome and part of the program in order to prevent things like hazing. I encourage the players to treat each other like family and show respect toward everyone in that family. I think by creating positive opportunities off-the field for the team to bond in team building exercises we create a climate in which there isn’t a need to haze. I think showing the kids in a positive manner what a supportive team looks like instead of just telling the kids “don’t do this, don’t do that” is more effective. Model and practice what we want seen instead of just making a list for the kids to memorize.
DC: I try to educate them. All groups are susceptible to hazing. These are young men that make bad decisions sometimes. I can’t be everywhere and I try to give them the tools to make good decisions.
BFP: When stories break in the media about hazing, does that affect your attitude or policy towards hazing?
KM: I have always had a strong attitude about the importance of making everyone on the team feel important and safe, and that you shouldn’t have to do something, or have something done to you to prove it. When a news story breaks about an unfortunate and terrible hazing incident I am reminded as a coach why our jobs are so important and that as coaches it is more than just trying to get a group of players to win a game, but that we are preparing our players to role model citizens and show respect towards each other.
We are getting them ready for the real world and have the power of sports to teach them about character. Teaching sports skills just involves a lot of repetition and practice, but getting high school teens to be one unit and comfortable with each other to the point where they don’t feel the need to hurt or belittle others in order to make themselves feel superior can be a big challenge but one that is most rewarding. This challenge is one of the most important roles we have as coaches in my view. The challenging of staying on top of hazing is always changing because it has so many different forms and is like a ghost because as coaches you can’t see it all the time. That’s the scary part.
DC: It just reinforces my thoughts and attitudes on hazing.
BFP: As someone who has played a high level in college sports, do you find that affecting your tactics toward hazing as a coach? (McClintock played for the University of Vermont field hockey team from 2004 to 2007)
KM: I was very fortunate in high school and college to be part of teams that did not haze. I was worried my freshman year of high school making varsity that there would be something that the upperclassman would make me do that would make me humiliated, however they were so welcoming and I fit right on the squad. When I moved on to UVM, this was a little time after the huge hockey incident happened that ended the men’s season. UVM took a lot of steps to educate every team on hazing and how it can effect the whole team. UVM had a tight leash on hazing and made it clear how serious they took it. The team I played for was amazing, if you stepped on the field you wouldn’t know who was a freshman or a senior because we all got along. I think about both my experiences being so positive in that a lot of time was spent off-the-field creating a positive team environment, and I have carried that over into coaching myself.
BFP: Coaching a sport that has more of a reputation for hazing (football, hockey, lacrosse, etc), has that effected how you approach and discuss the issue?
DC: Personally, it doesn’t matter what sport I coached, I would take the same approach. What are the values of your program? Try to develop a culture of caring. Team culture is directly related to team success. It is all about relationships. Kids know I care about them on and off the field. I hug them. I tell them I love them. I scold them. It is difficult to create a good team culture, if you can it helps to avoid hazing incidents. I try to model the respect I want them to have for each other.
Just remember no matter how hard we work, it does not mean a team will be immune form hazing incidents.