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Article updated: 9/19/2013 10:08 PM
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Challenge hazing by doing something write
 

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Challenge hazing by doing something write

Elliot Hopkins hopes he will see a day where hazing is finally razed from our society.

"I'm forever optimistic that hazing can be ended," Hopkins said, "and we can divert our energies to something more productive."

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Until that time arrives, however, Hopkins isn't going to stop trying to raise awareness about the damage inflicted from hazing. It's a cause he's been dedicated to in 21 years of working with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.

Hopkins played football at Chicago's South Side powerhouse Mt. Carmel and was a four-year letterman at Wake Forest, where he won the program's Bill George Award for his play on the defensive line. But one thing Hopkins has found through the years and his travels is no sport or group is immune from hazing.

"Church camps, band camps, spirit teams, speech and debate teams, it doesn't hide from anybody," Hopkins said. "If you have the motivation and have bought into the tradition of 'welcoming' someone into your program, it's there."

That's why Hopkins tries to focus on prevention rather than intervention. By the time the latter is called for, Hopkins can't help very much with the problems and unwanted attention descending on the people, programs, schools and communities involved.

So, next week is a big one for Hopkins and others with National Hazing Prevention Week. The NFHS has backed the work of HazingPrevention.org for the last three years and both groups are working to have an even greater influence at the high school level.

The NFHS is sponsoring the 2013 NHPW High School Essay Contest, which is now open exclusively to high school students and has more and larger awards for the winners. Entrants will submit 500-word essays related to the theme, "Challenge Hazing. Challenge Yourself," and they will be asked to write about how they welcome new members to teams and organizations in ways that combat hazing. The top three essayists will win cash prizes of $500, $250 and $150.

The theme matches how Hopkins believes teams and organizations should bring in newcomers and underclassmen.

"If you have a tradition, make it a big deal or an honor with a dinner or something honorable," Hopkins said.

Or, something you wouldn't have a problem watching on television, hearing about on the radio or reading about in a newspaper or on the Internet.

Although it's usually only the extreme cases that reach the media frenzy stage, a lot of things that seem harmless would be classified as hazing. Making underclassmen carry equipment bags or clean up all the equipment or a locker room fall into that category.

"I'll give presentations to kids and show images and they'll say, 'That's not us, we don't do that,'" Hopkins said. "I'll say, 'What do make your freshmen do but you don't make your juniors do?' As long as it's a subservient, menial task ..."

It's hazing. And often, the tasks and subservience grow through the years to levels that become more demeaning, degrading and damaging. Hopkins has seen enough instances where the lives of successful kids and adults are ruined.

"It hurts a school and weakens a community," Hopkins said. "It absolutely will."

Especially the youngest athletes, who are already facing a lot of internal pressure if they make a varsity team from competing with or against kids who may be three or four years older.

"I've said, 'Why do we need to have this (extra) pressure,'" Hopkins said. "I'm old-school, where if we're on a team, we're a family. I said, 'If you haze me, we can't really be a family and I can't trust you.'

"Now I've made a varsity team .... and I'm just happy to be here and you're abusing and assaulting me? I don't know where assault and battery has to be a prerequisite to be on a sports team."

That's the message Hopkins tries to get across in the approximately 30 presentations he'll give to schools across the country each year. Naturally, he admitted a few weeks ago to having some mild concern about having no presentations scheduled yet for this school year.

Because Hopkins knows, as much as he wished it was true, that hazing hasn't suddenly come to a halt. So, he will keep on leading the way to bring it to an end.

"Twenty-one years of doing this and talking about this, and that's 21 years too long," Hopkins said. "But I love doing it. I never thought I'd have the passion for this and be doing this 21 years later."

Guidelines for the NHPW High School Essay Contest are at www.NationalHazingPreventionWeek.com/contests Essays must be submitted by midnight Nov. 1. For more information about HPO go to www.HazingPrevention.Org.

• Marty Maciaszek is a freelance columnist for the Daily Herald who can be reached at marty.maciaszek@gmail.com.

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