You think something's going to be very innocent but it turned out to be very dangerous. —Ogden School District spokeswoman Donna Corby
OGDEN — Nine Ogden High School cheerleaders have been suspended and missed their senior prom after investigators say an initiation activity crossed into a hazing incident.
"We believe that some sort of initiation has taken place every year for our cheerleaders and it has gone under the radar," said Ogden School District spokeswoman Donna Corby.
The nine graduating senior cheerleaders invited 16 incoming cheerleaders to one of their homes for a night of pizza and makeovers on May 4, Corby said. The newcomers ate as planned, but were then blindfolded and taken to Forest Green Park where they were called names, cursed at and covered in ketchup, peanut butter, mustard and flour.
"We had a young lady with a peanut allergy, and had to use her (epinephrine) pen," Corby said, noting that the students probably didn't think of the risks they were causing. "You think something's going to be very innocent but it turned out to be very dangerous."
Corby said the cheerleaders' adult adviser was not present when the announcement was made about the pizza party and was, therefore, not there when the hazing occurred.
The incident was reported by a parent and teacher and school administrators immediately launched an investigation and interviewed the students involved.
Additional reports alleged that urine was also thrown at the girls and that they were forced to strip before they could be hosed off. Corby said those allegations have not yet been verified. She did confirm, however, that when the girls removed their blindfolds, male students were present.
Investigators are working with school resource officers to determine who else may have been there during the incident. Those students also face potential punishment.
"We are rather stunned because Ogden High is a school of tradition — of long-standing tradition — and this is not going to be one of them," Corby said.
The school district has a strict policy against hazing that classifies it as a level four infraction on a scale of five and allows for a suspension of one to five days. Corby said. The nine seniors involved in the incident were suspended May 8 and Corby said the suspension included the weekend — and the girls' senior prom.
The suspended students were allowed back into the school to take their advanced placement and end-of-year exams. It is anticipated they will still graduate. Still, Corby said, they might still face additional consequences.
"For students who are 18 or older, there could be possible charges filed by the parents," Corby said.
Some students at the school said the incident was blown out of proportion and the students were simply taking part in a traditional initiation.
"They told me that everybody knew it was going to happen. The girls that were going to be initiated knew that they were going to do something to them and they said, ‘Oh, it's OK,'" student Lily Sanchez said.
Anytime an initiation moves from an innocent activity, like pizza and makeup, to embarrassment and humiliation, it has crossed the line into hazing, Corby said
"I would like to believe that, in their naïvety, they did not understand the seriousness of what they found themselves involved in," she said of the cheerleaders.
David Parker, associate director of the National Community of Caring Program at the University of Utah, said hazing can take on a group mentality that leads to more serious actions. He said he often talks to youths who say those around them push them into actions they they would not take on their own.
"There is a personality a group can create that is different than the individuals that make up the group," he said. "That group personality sometimes leads us to do things that as an individual we would not do."
Corby said she isn't certain how the senior cheerleaders are feeling about what was done. One of them has already written and sent letters of apology and the others will be required to apologize to the incoming cheerleaders once they return to school.
"As we move forward and they see the front page of the paper and they watch TV and see what happened, they'll know that they've embarrassed themselves and the school and I believe that they will feel sorry for their actions," Corby said.
Parker said hazing is a problem that schools and communities need to not only address through policies, but through continued monitoring.
"Oftentimes schools work very hard to develop a wonderful culture and climate in their school, but then they forget to monitor," Parker explained. "They begins to sit back and you begin to see thing like this, where people just forgot how they're supposed to act and treat people with respect and caring and creating an environment that's safe for everyone."
Corby said the Ogden School District is especially aware of this as sports teams come together in the summer and are hopeful this incident will be a learning experience for all students.
"We want to send a very strong message that there will be no hazing in the Ogden School District," she said. "It is simply not appropriate."
Contributing: Shara Park