Report: Lake Zurich football hazing escalated, coaches not always there
Results of an outside investigation of the Lake Zurich High School football team's hazing last fall were released Thursday night just after the school board approved the head coach's separation agreement, but the report did not detail exactly what happened to players.
Lake Zurich Unit District 95 board members voted to accept head coach and physical eduction teacher David Proffitt's resignation deal as part of a package of other agenda items. He will receive about $25,500 from the agreement that's retroactive to Jan. 20.
District 95 Superintendent Kaine Osburn then released the results and recommendations from the outside probe conducted by the Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick and Kohn law firm from Arlington Heights.
Although the report did not detail the Oct. 27 hazing incident in the football locker room, it states what happened "was isolated in the seriousness of its character, but not the only time the varsity football team engaged in inappropriate behavior, such as 'roasting' by trading insults and dares with one another."
In addition, the report says there is no evidence the football coaches instigated or condoned inappropriate behavior by the teenagers, but they were not in the dressing room to supervise at all times.
Proffitt, 70, told the Daily Herald that he's heard from many well-wishers in the Lake Zurich community since it was announced earlier this month he planned to resign. He reiterated Thursday he didn't know about any locker-room hazing and hopes what occurred after a varsity pasta dinner is not held against him as he seeks another high school football coaching position.
"My biggest concern is that the boys have learned something from this and it will benefit them in their lives, either now or later or both," said Proffitt, who became Lake Zurich's head coach in 2012. "I have no hard feelings toward anyone or the district. Yes, I certainly, probably have reason to, but I don't. And thank God for that."
At a meeting Jan. 12, the board accepted the resignations of Lake Zurich High athletic director Rolando Vazquez and dean Chad Beaver, an assistant football coach. Beaver's resignation was part of a $12,146 deal and became effective Jan. 20, while Vazquez won't leave until the academic year ends.
Some Lake Zurich High football parents, including Doug Miller, spoke highly of Proffitt and Beaver during public comment time at Thursday's meeting.
"What tremendous people coach Proffitt and coach Beaver have been for all of these boys," Miller told the board. "They've learned so much from these gentlemen. And if you have not taken the time to learn about the leadership classes ... all the different things these gentlemen did for the boys to help them become solid young men in our communities, then shame on you."
District 95 board President Doug Goldberg said it has been "an emotional and trying time" for the school system.
"There has been a tremendous amount of effort that has gone on behind the scenes to make sure that things are moving forward in a fashion that we think benefits everybody involved in this," Goldberg said.
Officials ordered the law firm's outside investigation because of what they called inappropriate and "egregious" behavior in the football locker room about a week before a Nov. 5 playoff game against Fenwick High School. The report says what occurred Oct. 27 "and some of the other less serious behaviors can be accurately characterized as hazing, which is defined as any humiliating or dangerous activity expected of a student to belong to a team or group, regardless or his or her willingness to participate."
The report to District 95 states a private security guard on his typical building rounds entered the boys athletic locker room the evening of Oct. 27 and "witnessed a few members of the varsity football team engaged in inappropriate behavior." Some players were indirectly participating, watching or were aware, according to the report.
Once informed about what occurred, Osburn and other District 95 administrators met varsity football players and parents Nov. 4 and 5, according to the law firm's report.
"By the accounts of multiple varsity team members, the behavior escalated over the season," says the report. "Players' direct involvement, or at least silent knowledge, was found to be widespread, yet no varsity team member had come forward."
Saying a team solution was needed, the administrators informed the players and parents to sign a student behavior agreement before the Fenwick game Nov. 5 or be prohibited from playing the rest of the 2016 season. Lake Zurich lost the playoff game.
Lake Zurich police documents show a criminal sexual abuse investigation was launched Nov. 8 while law enforcement looked into the hazing claims. Many sections of the documents were blacked out, so it's unclear what specifically they might have said occurred about 7 p.m. Oct. 27 after the weekly football team dinner.
Police announced last month they concluded they lacked evidence to pursue charges against any athletes, in part due to a lack of cooperation from witnesses.
Proffitt said he's been told what happened but declined to elaborate.
"I have a very strong faith," he said. "I believe in God and I practice my faith very strongly. So, when I heard what they were doing, I was like, 'Oh my God, how did this happen to me with my beliefs and what I try to get across to the kids, that they would do something like this?'"
While no coaches were in the football locker room during the Oct. 27 incident, according to the District 95 report, they were aware of the administration's stance on required supervision. The players were allowed into the dressing room after the dinner on the expectation they would retrieve their coats, gear and backpacks.
The law firm's report said there was evidence unspecified coaches "were aware of an earlier incident of misconduct in the football locker room involving some freshman team members, for which discipline was issued and every team level was addressed."
District 95 already has made changes for all sports, including the requirement of a locker-room supervision schedule and a mandatory anti-hazing presentation for varsity football players and their parents and guardians.
Among the 13 recommendations in the law firm's report are that the district place an emphasis on supervision for the protection of students and start an anonymous tip line for reports of bullying, harassment and hazing with defined response protocols by school officials.