The Juneau-Douglas football team will play nonconference Railbelt power Colony on Saturday without four of the Crimson Bears’ 12 seniors. The four have been suspended as a result of the Juneau School District’s investigation into incidents of hazing last spring.
“I am not disclosing that anybody was punished for hazing,” JDHS head football coach Kevin Hamrick said. “I just cannot talk about that. I will not give you any information concerning suspensions.”
A parent of one of the involved students identified the four as quarterback Dorian Isaak, wide receiver/defensive backs Adam Empson and Daniel Stevens, and lineman Kaelin Deitrick.
The penalties include a one-week suspension from school, a one-game suspension and 40 hours of community service, according to a second parent. JDHS’ game against Colony at 7 p.m. at Adair Kennedy Field is a non-conference game and will not have any playoff implications for the Crimson Bears.
“We just have a football game to practice for,” Hamrick said. “I am just trying to prepare the team, with the players we have, to play Colony. That is my only focus right now.”
According to school district privacy rules, Hamrick cannot comment on who was suspended, why they were suspended or what the penalties are.
“I inherited this team and they had a set of rules they went by and I am trying to change some of those rules to be more respectful, but I inherited what I got,” said Hamrick, who is in his first season as head coach. “I think since I have been on board, we have gone to three camps, and we have not had any issues since I have been head coach. I think we are in the right direction as far as being respectful in school and being respectful citizens and trying to get decent grades and graduate from high school. We can’t judge all that until after the season and after next season.”
When asked if the suspended players’ actions were brought to his attention before the season, Hamrick reiterated that he cannot speak about the suspensions but did talk to the team about policy.
“I do not speak to individual players,” Hamrick said. “I just speak to the whole team, of course about what has been going on and that it is unacceptable. Before we knew it was going to happen I said it could have great consequences and you have to be smarter than that. I just speak to the whole group and not individual players and I think it has obviously sunk in, not only because I told them but also because of all the attention it has got. I think with the discipline that has been handed down I will, in the future, be able to refer to what happened in the past and it will have that much more meaning.”
Hamrick said he will not be implementing any additional disciplinary actions as the head football coach without talking to administrators including athletic director Sandi Wagner.
“I am on a very tight leash with this whole issue,” Hamrick said.
The JDHS team handbook and team rules sometimes differ from school policy.
In JDHS football culture, swearing can result in pushups, and being late for practice means extra sprints.
“Everything else is spelled out in policies,” Hamrick said. “Right now we are just waiting, we are going to adjust what we need to adjust and if certain individuals break team rules than there will probably be some physical types of punishments, such as extra workouts and things like that.”
When asked if team rules have been amended with regard to bullying or hazing, Hamrick stated, “In our player handbook it says refer to school district policy when it comes to hazing. The school district policy covers it. We just refer to the school district policy for any type of activity like that. I handle things like being late to practice, swearing at practice, stuff like that, but most of the discipline grid for the school district covers nearly everything else, the more in-depth type of things.”
Even though the suspensions take effect against a non-conference opponent, they still can have a cost.
The Colony Knights defeated East Anchorage 23-13 to open the season and ran over West Valley 42-20 last weekend. The Knights feature a senior-heavy varsity roster that features players who earned varsity status by working up through a freshman, C and junior-varsity career.
“It does matter,” Hamrick said. “Whatever the school district is doing to the individuals it does matter. Hopefully they learn a lesson from it that we can pass on to the future. It absolutely matters. Colony is a 4A school. They are going to come in here with an offense that scored 42 on West Valley last week and they are going to mean business. We have a football game to play.”
Having key position players absent from any game, especially against a strong opponent, can lead to an injury.
“That is always the risk,” Hamrick said. “Especially when you have younger players taking the field. If you have 14-year-olds taking the field against 17 and 18-year-olds, that is a huge issue, but that is the one we are stuck with in Juneau since we have two high schools and so a lot of freshmen and sophomores make varsity. We do not have the depth.”
Thunder Mountain High School had no seniors implicated in the hazing, according to a source. Student Hunter Miller, who also received penalties, was enrolled at TMHS but had transferred to Yaakoosgé Daakahídi Alternative High School and is in the process of transferring to an Anchorage school, according to a parent familiar with the names released.
The sixth and seventh students implicated in the district’s investigation were not identified by press time.
“Basically if they keep the penalties secret it has no deterrent at all,” Thunder Mountain High School coach Jeep Rice said. “Personally, (I think) the penalty is too light. Secondly, because it is secret what deterrents does it have? That is the whole point of this is deterrence. In other words these guys are all seniors and they are not going to be around to be deterred in the future. The point is to punish them, yes, but to deter those in the future and breaking the cycle. I am thoroughly not convinced that is going to happen. There may be a one-year hiatus, but will it not come back? If there is nothing truly public about this with names and consequences, what is the deterrence two years out?”
Two of the six hazing victims were TMHS students (both were football players). Three were JDHS students and two were also football players. The Juneau Empire has talked with victims’ families but has opted to not disclose their names.
“Neither of my players will talk,” Rice said.
The Falcons will travel to play at defending medium school state champion Soldotna at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Stars’ field. Soldotna defeated 4A Eagle River 53-6 to open the season and 4A Palmer 33-0 last weekend.
“We are preparing as if they are beatable,” Rice said. “We are taking that approach, the same approach we do every week. We step up and do our best, whether it is an easy team or a hard team. This will be a very hard team, maybe the hardest we face all year. We will play our game and do the best we can and Soldotna will have a lot to say about that. This bullying, or hazing, or assault will always be with us.”
A parent of one of the victims, who does not wish to be identified, said the victims fear retaliation after the suspensions and are wary to even attend the annual welcome back to school dance at JDHS tonight.
“We should have stepped up and done something during the police investigation,” the parent said. “That is on us. The penalty is not as harsh as one would think for something like this. I can guarantee that at least four of the victims will not be paddling underclassmen when they are seniors. The mental scars will not leave them, however, and one kid is really struggling right now. And for them to be afraid, as freshmen, to attend the welcome back to school dance, for fear of being retaliated against, is frightening. This is their freshman year, they should be out at dances acting goofy, having a good time. They are in ninth grade, they are allowed. This has become bigger than the victims, now.”
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