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Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2007 03:29 pm

When adults are away...

Virden hazing incident speaks to need for statewide rule

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Untitled Document My older son is legendary among local figure-skating fans. Not for his double-loop jump or his flying camel or his back sit spin, because, in truth, those skills have gone the way of his adorably squeaky voice, his addiction to cinnamon toast, and his cheerful willingness to wear multicolored socks: into the fond-memory bin. No, my offspring is legendary for the day he killed Paul McCartney.
Milo was just 9, as I recall, and participating in his first skating show. Like most of the kids, he was cast in several different numbers, and if I were a better mom I’d have a scrapbook that would remind me whether that was the year he was an orphan, a gambler, and a cowboy or the year he was an Indian, Snoopy, and Winthrop Paroo. Alas, all I remember is McCartney. It was a medley of Beatles tunes that featured four boys skating in black suits and shaggy wigs. Milo got tagged as McCartney because he was the most animated of the bunch. I was stationed way up in the bleachers, running spotlight No. 7 and thinking how much fun I was having and how strange it was that only dads volunteered to manhandle a spotlight. All the other moms were working on the ground, in or near the locker rooms, helping their little darlings change costumes. When the Beatles medley played, I found out why: John, George, and Ringo appeared, but no Paul. Oh, Milo skidded out there toward the end of the number, but his giant mental lapse was clear to all 597-or-so skating fans packed into the Nelson Center for the Saturday matinee. What I later discovered was that Milo had sneaked his Game Boy into the locker room, zoned out, and missed his cue. I also discovered that the boys had passed their time between numbers soaking paper towels in water and pelting each other with giant spitwads. Costumes had been left on the floor, boot covers were strewn willy-nilly, and the guest skater had brought in a giant bottle of blue Gatorade that, had it spilled, would surely have ruined something.
In other words, the place was a mess. Why? Because there was no adult supervision. As my 6-year-old would say: “Duh!”
I flashed back on this episode last week, when I was contacted by Marc Elliott, a Virden sports fan who is still upset about a high-school football-team “hazing incident” that took place more than a month ago. Published reports indicate that the hazing involved two freshman boys, four seniors, and possibly some lewd or sexual conduct. In the aftermath of this trauma, much discussion has been focused on what constitutes hazing, school policies regarding hazing, what constitutes sexual assault. To Elliott, those conversations miss the point: Why was there no adult present in the locker room?
Elliott is a former coach, not of football but of hockey. He led Sacred Heart-Griffin’s hockey team for three seasons, and before that he spent 10 seasons in Minnesota coaching teams ranging in age from 4 to 20, everything from “mini-mites” to juniors in USA Hockey and Minnesota Amateur Hockey Association leagues. “We had a rule that suggests there should always be an adult present in any locker room situation,” Elliott says. “The theory is, if there’s an adult present, 90 to 95 percent of the crap that goes on could be prevented. If something does happen. . . .”
And I believe he says the word “liability,” but, being more mom than litigious animal, I’m just thinking, wow, that’s genius! Have an adult present at all times. “Duh!”
So how does it work? Do you miss out on other coaching duties? Does it make the players uncomfortable? Elliott says he never had any problem hanging out with the guys; he just threw on or off his pads, laced or unlaced his skates with them.
“I made a practice of taking my gear off as slowly as possible. I’d time it so that I’d walk out with the last kid,” he says. “I did it just for the camaraderie and to keep an eye on ’em.”
I called the Illinois High School Association to see whether schools like Virden are bound by such a rule and found out, nope, IHSA has no such policy. Unattended locker rooms are apparently hunky-dory here. When I e-mailed this news to Elliott, he was surprised but not swayed. “The lack of such a policy doesn’t and shouldn’t lessen the coaches’ or schools’ responsibility to provide a safe, supervised dressing room for players to prepare for their practices and games,” he wrote back. “I always felt like, as a coach, nothing happens to kids under my charge. I’d be cringing if something like this had happened on a team of mine.”
Everything’s relative. Compared with what transpired in Virden, my son’s bad Beatles experience is downright funny. Still, he left the rink crying that day. He knew he had disappointed his friends, his coach, his mom, and, most of all, John, George and Ringo. The thing is: Neither incident had to happen. Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.
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