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Parents, students react to Needham soccer suspensions

Posted by Your Town  November 10, 2010 04:00 PM

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Parents, students and former players reacted strongly to Needham High School's decision to suspend several players for an alleged hazing incident, with some Needham parents insisting that the school went too far.

The mother of a junior on the Needham High School girls soccer team says that the suspensions of several players on the team for alleged hazing were too severe for what she called a "misguided attempt at team building.''

In an email to the Globe, Needham parent Sharon Lund said that the team was supporting both the players and the team's coach, who also reportedly has been placed on leave. She said her daughter is a junior on the team who was not implicated in the incident.

Other supporters of the team, including the godfather of one of the players, also criticized the school.

"As the parent of an underclassman, I can safely say that the ENTIRE Needham Girl's Soccer team and parents are UNANIMOUS in supporting each senior who has been placed on suspension and the coach who has been placed on administrative leave, and assert that the event in question in no way warrants the issuing of suspensions by Needham High School,'' Lund said in the email. "In a nutshell, there was no intention to harm, nor was any harm perceived by team members, during a misguided attempt at team building.''

She continued:

"In my personal opinion, these girls have handled a serious mistake in a more mature fashion than either the NHS administration or the press has to date. This was an isolated intra-team issue that they resolved to everyone's satisfaction amongst themselves with active support from the coach, and in the process strengthened the bonds amongst them. As some of the parents have so aptly pointed out, aren't these the life skills that we want our daughters to have?''

Separately, Brendan Copley, a Needham High senior, said he thinks hazing is not as big an issue as bullying at Needham, because hazing is more like a ritual. He said his coaches have never talked about hazing before, and sometimes, underclassmen on his teams would get "picked on," but he thinks it may make some freshmen feel included.

"Some freshmen enjoy it; they're big kids now in the high school," he said. "Some take it a different way, and the seniors who do it should keep that in mind."

"The newscasters are brutal," he said of the news coverage of the Needham incident. "It's been blown out of proportion. Parents are overreacting because their kids just got to the high school, and they don't know what's going on."

Several members of the Needham High School girls’ soccer team were suspended before Monday night’s state tournament game for allegedly hazing younger players on the team.

WBZ-TV reported that the hazing victims had been blindfolded and led around on dog leashes, then hit in their faces with pies. The team’s coach, Carl Tarabelli, was put on administrative leave, the station said. He could not be reached for comment.

In an interview, a 1988 graduate of Needham High School who said he was the godfather of one of the suspended students said he was shocked and disappointed that the girls were suspended.

"This is something that has been going on for years. It is nothing major, and everyone jumped to conclusions so quickly," said Joshua Melia, a Needham resident. He said he was "angry and disappointed" on behalf of his goddaughter, a senior co-captain, and her teammates for "something so minor."

"This was not bullying and it was not hazing, but that's what they are calling it. To just label the kids in that way isn't fair," said Melia, who said he was a member of Needham High's wrestling team, and recalled that minor-league teasing of freshmen team members was common in his day.

In an email to the Globe, Benji Eisenberg, who identified himself as a Needham High graduate, said, "Hazing/initiation rites are one of the most important aspects of team building and bonding ... tryouts are almost a hazing experience in themselves.''

Parents watching the Lincoln-Sudbury varsity boys soccer playoff vs. Brookline today said they felt that, overall, Needham school officials had acted properly.

"Hazing is a form of bullying," said Nancy Childress, who said she was a teacher and the parent of a Lincoln-Sudbury freshman. "When you are put in a position of having to do something you didn't want to do, it's bullying."

School officials have said little to explain the suspensions.

“The Needham High School Community is saddened about recent events involving the girls’ soccer team,’’ said a statement from the superintendent’s office Tuesday afternoon. “The high school administration, staff, students, and families urge the local Needham community to support our team as they face Brockton tonight.’’

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