Kids can be cruel.
Just ask Conestoga High School’s student athletes. During games this past year, young supporters of opposing teams have chanted “BROOM-stick! BROOM-stick!” to rattle Conestoga players.
Football, rugby, basketball — no matter the sport, it's usually minutes before some idiot starts the jeering. And Conestoga families are reminded that Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan has yet to own the consequences of his grandstanding.
In March 2016, Hogan accused three 17-year-old members of Conestoga’s football team, the Pioneers, of locker-room hazing that culminated in their sodomizing a 14-year-old player with a broomstick.
The details were horrific as described by Hogan at the news conference he called to discuss the alleged incident: Two of the accused restrained the alleged victim while the third penetrated his rectum with a broom handle.
“That’s over 400 pounds of senior holding down this freshman,” said Hogan, his rage barely contained. “The victim yelled and screamed, but he did not have a friend in the locker room that day.”
The news went viral as media outlets around the globe reported on the Pioneers’ depravity. The team’s head coach resigned and five others were sacked.
Hogan had no regrets about going public with the accusations.
''No one wants to talk" about hazing. he told the New York Times. “They want to say not in my high school, not here. It's a dirty little secret that gets swept under the rug, and I say, no more.”
Except that the most reprehensible allegation — sodomy — never happened.
In January, nine months after that sensational news conference, Hogan quietly released a statement announcing that the accused teens — who'd vociferously maintained their innocence — were pleading guilty to a summary offense of harassment only. Their infraction: holding the alleged victim down and poking him in a leg with a broomstick when he refused to help clean the locker room.
The incident is so inconsequential, it can be expunged after six months with no probation, letter of apology or other penalty.
Hogan, who had eagerly played to the cameras when making his sensational accusations, has refused to comment on their unsensational demise. (He didn't return my calls, either.)
“Because this case is a juvenile matter, all the records are sealed and the parties will not be making any further public comment,” he said in the statement.
How convenient that has been for Hogan as the unfounded sodomy allegation continues to reverberate throughout the Conestoga community.
“He made a big deal when he said my son committed a crime,” says Dorian Ross, father of one of the defendants. “Well, he should’ve made a big deal when he dropped those charges.”
It’s no wonder the school remains under that "BROOM-stick!" shadow, says David Paolisso, whose son was a teammate of the accused kids, whom he calls "the Conestoga Three."
“At one game, students from the opposing school even wore T-shirts with broomstick pictures on them," he says.
Wow. Stay classy, kids.
Paolisso has created a GoFundMe campaign to help pay legal fees that families of the Conestoga Three incurred defending them. (Its goal is $30,000; $8,200 has been raised.)
“They’re tens of thousands of dollars in debt,” he says.
The families have been through hell in the 14 months since Hogan’s momentous news conference.
One of the defendants lost a full scholarship to a university that didn’t want to risk being associated with an accused sodomist. A few months later, the teen’s father died suddenly; friends of the family believe stress over his son’s predicament did him in.
Another boy, who was supposed to play rugby for the university that recruited him, had to postpone attendance until this year.
The third battled anxiety and worry, says his mother. She asks that I not use her name because it will identify her son publicly (even though pretty much everyone knows he was one of the accused).
“Our lawyer thought this would be resolved quickly, because the [alleged] victim's story didn’t add up,” she says. But as the investigation dragged on, "you could tell people were thinking, ‘There must be something to this.’ It was awful."
Paolisso believes that the entire Conestoga community deserves a long-overdue apology from Hogan. If not, the bloviating DA will learn a long-overdue lesson when he's up for reelection in 2019:
Kids may be cruel. But they've got nothing on angry voters.