Warden volleyball sleepover reportedly includes hazing, car crash

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Courtesy photo/ A photo of one of a gym at Warden High School.

WARDEN — On Friday, Aug. 30, the Warden High School volleyball team had a lock-in, an overnight event with team-building activities that students were not allowed to leave. According to reports, hazing-like activities may have occurred, which spurred some distressed students to leave the event early, with one crashing a car into posts that surround a fire hydrant.

At 10:42 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 30, police were dispatched to 101 W. Beck Way in Warden, according to the officer’s report filed with the Warden Police Department. A vehicle was spotted “planted on top of two red posts protecting a fire hydrant” with its left side wheels “several feet off the ground and leaning on a fire hydrant on the right side.”

Police were told by a 35-year-old female that she had been attempting to make a left turn, gone too far to the right and had hit the posts. Also in the car at the time of the accident was a 14-year-old female.

Upon further investigation, police discovered that prior to an accident, the Warden High School girls volleyball team had been in the middle of a lock-in with team building events. During the event, players reported that they were made to run around on the football field while the sprinklers were on and do jumping jacks.

“The student said that while doing jumping jacks, some of the football boys were coming towards them with muffins,” stated the police report, concerning student statements of the event that were given to police by the school district. The football players allegedly threw the muffins at younger students.

“She said that the …. seniors told them not to run and to have a good attitude,” the report continued. “The student went on to say that when they went back inside the gym that some of the football boys were in the gym and threw water balloons at them. She said that after that, she and some other girls left.”

Upon leaving, three of the students, who were in one car, hit a fire hydrant. In an attempt to help shield her daughter, one of the moms told police that she had been the driver. Later, the student’s family came forward and confessed to the volleyball player driving without a license and lying to law enforcement about the accident. They said that there were “many factors that resulted in their daughter’s accident.” As a result of telling the truth to the police, the family has experienced no repercussions.

The school district did an investigation into the lock-in and determined that no hazing happened.

“The district held a traditional high school activity for fall athletes on Aug. 30, 2019,” said a statement from the school district. “The administration received concerns about student activities and supervision during the activity. We have investigated the incident. We found that hazing did not occur. However, some activities were not best practices and we are conducting additional training for our coaches on general liability issues: hazing, harassment, bullying, social media and student supervision.”

However, student statements reviewed by police and taken by Warden Athletic Director Gary Brandt, one of the staff members investigating the incident, suggest different.

One student said that they felt that the coaches, chaperones, some of the other volleyball players and football players went overboard. Another player stated that while she had fun, “she wasn’t the one who got verbally attacked or water balloons thrown at her.” She also said she felt awkward having boys in the room where she would be sleeping.

Another girl said she felt uncomfortable with the activities that the senior volleyball players made them do and that they made them stay on the field when the boys appeared. Yet another girl stated that they made them run through the sprinklers with their phones and act like chickens, making them feel humiliated. One player felt singled out.

One anonymous tip said that the pranks between the volleyball and football players were the result of posters that the freshmen were made to put on the football players’ cars. They also said the coaches were making fun of the girls who left. Some said they felt scared of the coaches.

In his notes, Brandt said that “no one felt singled out as freshmen or as individuals.” But the police report points out that “at least two freshmen girls mentioned that they felt singled out,” and that Brandt included that in his notes.

According to the report, during the interview and statement-taking process done by Brandt, two senior players were interviewed, but were not made to write statements like other students. When asked by police about this omission, Warden High School Principal Courtney McCoy at first said they couldn’t remember. Later, she said that Brandt had reminded her that it was because the seniors statements were to be taken at the end of the school day and they needed to be done quickly, and this is why they weren’t written down. However, law enforcement later saw that the seniors statements were taken in the morning and that other students who had written statements had been taken late in the day.

When asked in an interview why the two seniors had not written statements, Warden Superintendent Dr. David LaBounty said that he was unsure. He said that it is the district’s practice to have students write down their statements. However, if they don’t want to, the district doesn’t force them.

Several times during the course of the investigation, McCoy stated that she did not believe that the volleyball lock-in and the accident were connected. When McCoy was asked why one of the volleyball players had been involved in the collision, “McCoy then remembered that there were about 10 players that left (for) home early and did not stay the entire night.” McCoy stated that the accident occurred after the player had left the lock-in.

Early in the investigation, law enforcement asked if they would be able to obtain a copy of the footage from the school cameras. McCoy said that the videos were only given out for school related incidents “and this incident was not school related.” Later, LaBounty granted access to law enforcement.

LaBounty said that during his meetings with law enforcement, he believed the district was “very transparent.”

“At the beginning of the process, law enforcement did come in with the school to look at all the participants,” LaBounty said. “It was very transparent at that meeting. There was no hesitation or holding back.”

When police asked if any hazing or initiations had taken place, McCoy said that she had performed an investigation and hadn’t “seen any indication or signs of any hazing or initiation.” When asked about the muffins and water balloons, McCoy said that it was retaliation by the football players for the posters put on their cars. She said that it was a spontaneous event and that she had no idea where the water “balloons came from or where they were filled up at but that she heard that the football players had them in their vehicles.” Police suggested that the prepared water balloons indicated premeditation.

“Based on the reports given to me, even though some students claimed that (there was hazing), we followed district protocols,” LaBounty said. “The athletic director and principal (McCoy) investigated the claims. Each claim is brought forward and investigated to its fullest. We follow everything out. We try to validate or take it to a dead end. There was some misconduct that was validated. The kids made some choices that just aren’t good. We want to use it as a building process.”

LaBounty said that the district is doing what it can to rebuild the trust of the players. They have had meetings with students and parents and brought in a presenter.

“There is not one set answer,” LaBounty said. “There was a lot of poor choice making that hit at different levels. These are great kids and something went personal. I’d love to build up all of them. Our work is not done. We’re working with each student and working to find that resolve.”

Brandt and McCoy would not answer any questions about the incident, but referred news staff on to LaBounty. Two coaches talked to either didn’t know anything about the incidents or seemed to indicate that it wasn’t a big deal.

Rachal Pinkerton may be reached via email at rpinkerton@suntribunenews.com.

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