The basketball season at Ooltewah High School in Ooltewah, Tennessee, was canceled this week after three student players were charged with sexually assaulting one of their teammates. Authorities are investigating whether the incident could be linked to hazing. Hamilton County Superintendent Rick Smith told the Associated Press Monday he made the decision to call off the team's remaining 13 games because he didn't want the probe to be compromised in any way.
“This decision is not a reflection upon the coaching staff,” Smith said. “Indeed, law enforcement officials have to date found no evidence any adult acted improperly. Likewise, this decision is not meant to punish the boys on the team who are innocent of any wrongdoing and simply want to play high school sports.”
The varsity basketball team traveled the roughly 140 miles to Gatlinburg to play in the Smokey Mountain Classic tournament a few days before Christmas. The team stayed in a rented cabin, where the mothers of at least four boys allege their sons were beaten up Dec. 22 with items like pool cues. After one victim was raped, he had to be hospitalized for surgery to repair his colon, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.
"I'm personally heartbroken" --Supt Rick Smith addressing the school board about Ooltewah rape allegations. pic.twitter.com/Z9mKiQ72E0
— Brittany Nicholson (@BrittanyNC9) January 6, 2016
Sources have told Gatlinburg investigators the assault was recorded on video and that the so-called "beat-in" was part of a hazing ritual conducted regularly by the Ooltewah basketball team, according to WBIR. After the tournament, three players were charged with aggravated rape and aggravated assault. But none have been identified because they're juveniles.
The high school itself restarted classes this week, with students holding a prayer vigil for the victims and alumni circulating a letter demanding an independent investigation into the rape. "How can the atmosphere on a high school sports team be so toxic as to lead to a potentially life-threatening sexual assault?" the alumni group wrote.
Hazing in youth sports is not uncommon. Reuters reported last month that 47 percent of students indicated they'd been hazed during high school. That number jumped to 80 percent among members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Athletes.