The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 29, 2010

School board hears details about alleged hazing behind closed doors

By Greg Grisolano
Globe Staff Writer

SENECA, Mo. — Rocky Ackerson was hoping to leave Tuesday night’s meeting of the Seneca School Board with some answers about what actually happened during an alleged hazing incident earlier this month involving members of the Seneca High School football team.

“I’ve heard hearsay,” he said. “But that’s why I’m here — to find out exactly what happened.”

An undisclosed number of players allegedly were involved in the incident during a football camp at Pittsburg (Kan.) State University. On Tuesday, university police said the investigation is continuing. A PSU spokesman said members of the football team and Seneca school officials are cooperating.

Ackerson, the stepfather of a freshman and a senior on the football team, declined to discuss the details of the alleged incident until after he had talked with school officials during a closed-door meeting.

“My understanding is there were a few incidents that should never have happened,” he said. “I just want to know where the supervision was. I wouldn’t take a busload of 2-year-olds to IHOP with a bowl of cookies on the table and not expect them to take one. There’s going to be mischief going on.”

Ackerson was among about 80 people who attended the meeting at the district’s administrative office. Officials brought in extra chairs, but more than a dozen people stood during the meeting. Others waited in the halls.

At the start of the meeting, Joe Caputo, board president, asked those attending for their patience. He said any comment with regard to the alleged hazing incident would take place during the closed session at the conclusion of the meeting.

At least 15 people had signed up to address the board by the time the regular meeting adjourned at 6:30 p.m. More than a dozen people were still waiting to address the board at 8 p.m. The board was meeting with parents individually behind closed doors.

In its vote to close that portion of the meeting, the board cited reasons allowed under the state Sunshine Law: for discussion of hiring, firing, disciplining or promoting employees, and for discussion of disciplinary matters regarding students.

During a recess before the closed session, Caputo said he would not comment on any potential action the board might take. He said the board’s goal was to gather information from those who wanted to address the board.

“I would anticipate some decisions at some point,” he said. “We’re just going to listen to their concerns.”

Superintendent Rick Cook said school officials had conducted “thorough interviews” of those allegedly involved in the incident, but he declined to release details before the board meeting.

“We’ve gathered data the board is not privy of,” he said. “Our attorney is here tonight and will be giving us legal advice.”

Several parents and residents who were approached for interviews by the Globe declined to comment.

An undisclosed number of students in the Seneca High School football program attended the football camp the week of June 7 at Pittsburg State. Tim Beck, the PSU head football coach, was the host for the camp.

PSU provides dormitories, football fields and other accommodations for a series of football camps. PSU spokesman Ron Womble has said that while the camps take place at PSU, they are put on privately by the football coach. Students pay fees that are used to cover the cost of room and board, and are allowed to stay at Nation Hall, a dormitory.

Law enforcement personnel, PSU officials and Cook have previously declined to discuss the details of the alleged incident, including how many students may have been involved and what may have happened, citing the investigation.

Parent tip

A parent notified the Seneca School District about the alleged incident while the team was still at the camp at Pittsburg State University, Seneca Superintendent Rick Cook has said. School officials then notified university police and other state agencies.