Conestoga football players admit hazing — not more-serious allegations

Conestoga
Three former Conestoga High School football players were charged last year with assaulting a freshman player with a broom. They admitted to harassment, a criminal summary offense, on Tuesday.

The allegations were shocking: Three senior football players at Conestoga High School, one of the most prestigious schools in the state, overpowered a freshman teammate, held him down, and sodomized him with a broom handle.

"He was grabbed, blocked from leaving the locker room," Chester County District Attorney Thomas P. Hogan said in announcing charges against the three in March. The allegations led to the head coach's resignation and the sacking of the rest of the coaching staff - and to doubts about the district attorney's accounts among parents and other district residents.

On Tuesday - the day the three players, all 17 at the time, were to go to trial - a joint statement by the District Attorney's Office and defense attorneys provided a substantially different account of the episode, removing the reference to penetration.

The three players formally acknowledged harassing the freshman, a summary offense. But under an agreement, on which the victim also signed off, prosecutors dropped all other charges, and the players will not be fined or otherwise punished.

Hogan declined to comment, saying the case was a Juvenile Court matter. The former players' court records are under seal.

In their joint statement, approved by Senior Judge Ronald C. Nagle, the players admitted "briefly" holding down the freshman after he tried to get out of cleaning the locker room with other underclassmen.

"One of the charged juveniles briefly poked the victim with a broomstick in the leg," the statement said. "The intent of the charged juveniles was to scare the victim and coerce him to cooperate with other team members in the joint cleanup of the locker room, and not to do the victim any physical harm."

Consistent with the district attorney's account in March, the statement said the freshman had suffered no physical injuries.

According to the statement, "The three juveniles have accepted responsibility for their conduct."

"We're happy with how the case resolved itself," said Michael Malloy, attorney for one of the players.

Since the district attorney announced the charges, some residents of the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District had expressed skepticism that the incident occurred. They said that the district attorney sensationalized what happened and that the players were being treated unfairly.

They pointed to a video that the freshman's classmate secretly recorded. In it, the student asked him about the alleged assault. The victim gave contradictory statements, saying both that the incident did happen and that he had told his father the allegations were not true.

School district residents attacked the credibility of the victim, who had been removed from the high school for distributing sexually explicit images of a middle school classmate.

The District Attorney's Office has stood by its account of the locker room incident and the validity of the charges against the teens.

The allegations spurred the district to conduct an internal investigation, which found incidents of hazing within the football team, such as upperclassman placing their genitals on younger players in what members of the team referred to as "No Gay Thursday," when they considered certain behaviors acceptable. The incident involving the freshman occurred on one of those days.

School officials removed the entire Conestoga football coaching staff because of the hazing and what they called inadequate oversight. The head coach resigned.

Tom Batgos, a former assistant football coach, said the case "caused three kids a great deal of anguish over a year unjustly" and "impacted a great school, innocent kids, and men that gave hundreds of hours to a football program."

"These kids, in my opinion, were exonerated," Batgos said.

According to Tuesday's statement, "The victim, the charged juveniles, and their respective families all would like the opportunity to move on with their lives. We all hope never to see an incident like this in Chester County again."

mbond@philly.com

610-313-8207@MichaelleBond