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For young player, heavy blow

Youth faces lifetime of treatment after reported hazing

Garrett Watterson, legally blind in one eye, knew he would never be a star swinging a baseball bat or shooting hoops. As a lineman on Sandwich High School's freshman football team, he thought he'd found his sport.

Now the 14-year-old freshman faces new physical hurdles, delivered by a body blow so devastating that doctors had to remove his spleen on Tuesday. The injury, suffered during a what officials described as a hazing episode at football practice, irrevocably changed Watterson's life. From now on, he will require routine immunizations and regular antibiotics to combat the bacteria normally filtered by the spleen.

''He is at risk of dying from bacterial infection for the rest of his life," said his pediatrician, Dr. Ramsey Fountain. ''If I get sick and I get a fever, I take Tylenol and go to bed. He gets sick, he either goes to the doctor or to the hospital. It has a permanent effect on his life."

Watterson remained at Jordan Hospital in Plymouth yesterday, where his stepfather, Charles Billard, said he was groggy from painkillers.

Sandwich police are considering criminal charges, but none had been filed yesterday. At Sandwich High School, officials continued their investigation of the episode at football practice Tuesday, when they said an upperclassman yanked Watterson's ankles out from under him in a ''freshman beat-down."

Nine players were suspended from school Thursday; two of them were kicked off the football team. A detective who had voiced suspicions Thursday that at least 15 more players were involved said yesterday he was satisfied that the nine who came forward were the only ones who could be tied to the episode. Their names have not been released.

Sandwich High principal Ellin Booras said officials still hope more students will come forward.

''I'm satisfied that I think we've done a very comprehensive investigation, but I don't think any of us feel that the nine young men who have come forward are perhaps the only people who should have come forward," she said.

But Watterson's stepfather wants a more independent investi