'Hazing defeats the purpose of the team': What some schools are doing to ensure it doesn't happen
First of two parts
Dragan Teonic has been a football coach at both the college and high school level during his 20-plus years on the gridiron. He's also been educated by at least four universities. He holds a Master of Education from the University of Missouri in school and counseling psychology with an emphasis on positive coaching.
Suffice to say Teonic, South Elgin's head coach since 2018, has the necessary experience, both on and off the field, to speak on the subject of hazing.
As the 2023 high school football season gets ready to kick off on Friday night, coaches, administrators, parents and student-athletes, can't ignore the subject -- as much as some would surely like to.
The recent hazing scandal at Northwestern University has brought the subject front and center.
First, let's define hazing. By definition, hazing is: To persecute or harass with meaningless, difficult, or humiliating tasks. It's also defined as an initiation process.
Hazing, according to insider.com, has been around since at least 387 B.C., when Plato saw boys playing "practical jokes."
It's no longer 387 B.C. and "practical jokes" are no longer acceptable.
And, the NU scandal has forced schools to address the issue once again.
"We've actually had multiple conversations as a football staff addressing this situation and making sure we have a culture that kids want to be a part of and are proud to be in," said Teonic, who is 42-7 in his five years at South Elgin, and who has also been the head coach at Larkin and Hersey High schools and Harper College.
Creating a culture kids want to be in is sometimes easier said than done. The "done" part is the challenge.
"We at South Elgin have started a 'Big Brother' program," Teonic said. "We group the entire program into small groups made up of seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen. We discuss proper behavior, effort, commitment, and discipline daily. The groups discuss fundraising, hazing, school procedures, getting help in classes, conditioning, lifting, multiple sports, etc. Everything we can think of gets discussed. We plan on meeting multiple times in the preseason and on Mondays during the season."
All around the suburbs, school administrators will be watched closely this school year and their communication will be a big key, especially early in the school year.
Zero tolerance is being practiced pretty much everywhere.
"The main thing our district is doing is a lot of communication and reinforcement of the expectations we have for our athletes (behaviors) and coaches (supervision)," said Schaumburg athletic director Marty Manning, now one of the longest tenured ADs in the iconic Mid-Suburban League.
"(Recently) I held our fall preseason student-athlete information night for our fall athletes and parents and reiterated that we have a zero-tolerance policy for hazing. I specifically told our athletes they need to notify their coaches or myself if they feel there is inappropriate behavior of ANY kind that is happening within their team.
Manning also last week held 'All Coaches' and 'Fall Coaches' preseason meetings with slides specifically dedicated to the expectations that we have of our coaches to be supervising their athletes at all times and to have a great 'pulse' of what is going on with their program. I have a Student-Athlete Leadership Team made up of captains from each team at the sophomore, junior, and senior levels. When I meet with these athletes I let them know that it is their responsibility as well to make sure that hazing has no place in any of our athletic programs."
"Our school has a zero-tolerance policy for hazing of any sort," added Warren football coach Bryan McNulty. "As coaches we are guided by our athletic director, who keeps a close eye on all that is going on in each sport. Part of her mission is to ensure each student-athlete belongs and hazing does not fit into that mission."
Is there a fine line?
With solid systems in place, hazing shouldn't be an issue, right? Well, kids will be kids and there's surely going to be some who think "innocent" initiations to their teams will be acceptable.
"I personally don't feel that any type of hazing/initiation is acceptable at any level," Manning said. "Even if it's done in public and with good intentions, what might be deemed ok by one person, is not going to be ok with another person.
"On the other hand, I do believe that having team-building activities under the direct supervision of coaches that help assimilate new players into the culture of the program can be a good thing. Obviously, those activities need to be positive in nature and supervised/run by the coaching staff. I know simple things like singing the school fight song in public could be viewed as a fun initiation rite, but especially with the age of student-athletes we are dealing with, anything that could be viewed as traumatic/embarrassing for them should not be done."
Teonic and McNulty stick with zero tolerance, but admit it's a challenge at times.
"Hazing defeats the purpose of the team," Teonic said "WE over ME is one of our most important mottos. WE over ME is on T-shirts, hoodies, celebrated as part of our football culture throughout the school.
"Hazing is not tolerated between football players or between football players and other sports. Older kids hazing younger kids hurts the program in the long run and defeats the purpose of our mission: to create a culture everyone can be proud of."
"No coach today will allow that to happen if they know about it," McNulty added. "Unfortunately, coaches are sometimes not aware of what athletes do when they are not around you. This can be challenging."
Coming in Part 2: State and national administrators weigh in.