Less than two years after the pool cue rape of an Ooltewah High School basketball player by his teammates, a shockingly similar incident has occurred involving Grundy County High School football players.
While the incident, which involved the attempted rape of a 15-year-old freshman with the metal handle of a dust mop by several teammates on Wednesday, can't be undone, the Cumberland Plateau community and all involved can learn lessons from the previous nightmare.
Communication is the most important lesson, and already it appears some have learned it and some have not. That the incident became public a day after it happened is an improvement over the Ooltewah episode, news of which trickled out through the then-school superintendent — admittedly over school Christmas holidays — and slowly filtered back to school board members and the public. By the time it became public, the details about what happened, where it happened and who was involved were so muddled they took weeks to sort out.
Grundy County Sheriff Clint Shrum apparently wanted to get ahead of such muddling and gave an initial thorough account on Thursday of what was known.
Unfortunately, county Board of Education Chairman Bob Foster fell under the incorrect assumption, as he emailed the Times Free Press, that "upon the advice of counsel, the board cannot have any comment on the matter." While Foster wisely may not want to comment on the details of the incident, he is perfectly within his rights to assure the community that the board will work with coaches and administrators to make sure nothing similar will happen again and that the board will review any attendant board policies to see if changes need to be made.
The school board chairman did say there would be a called school board meeting Monday, so he will have another opportunity to reassure the public.
Part of any public discourse on the incident should include a general discussion of what is innocent "wrestling around," as the sheriff termed what precipitated the event, what is hazing and what actions go beyond that.
Although county officials began to investigate what they initially may have been told was hazing, the incident was more serious. Hazing, according to state law, is action "directed against any other student that endangers the mental or physical health or safety of that student or that induces or coerces a student to endanger that student's mental or physical health or safety."
The law also mandates that each school district should have a written policy against hazing, which should be made available to every student annually and which — with its ramifications — should be discussed with students in the first month of the school year.
The five Grundy High perpetrators may not have imagined that their actions amounted to attempted aggravated rape, which is what they are charged with, but they should have known what is hazing and should have stopped before the incident reached that level.