Just down Interstate-45, near the coast, you'll find Texas City High School.
The football team went 2 and 8 this year. Not a great record, but Coach Leland Surovik says he's still proud of his team. In fact, he says the team is really more of a family.
“It's funny they call my grandpa sometimes because that's kind of how it trickles down. Dad or grandpa and then we go down,” Surovik said.
This family vibe — which includes some former players on the coaching staff — helps foster team spirit and by design minimizes opportunities for hazing, according to Surovik.
“Build a family and with that family that takes care of a lot of your discipline problems and it increases the excitement level,” he said.
Hazing is just simply not allowed, he says. It’s nipped in the bud before it starts.
“It's no tolerance, no tolerance on hazing,” Surovik said.
My Brother’s Keeper
Brayden Torres, Corday Williams and Jakerrin Price are all seniors on Texas City High School varsity squad.
They say their team is a brotherhood and as with any family, everyone has a role.
Price knows he has a fun role.
“I make jokes, I mess with people most of the time. It's fun. It's fun to me,” he said.
“I know when people start getting irritated and stuff. That's when I back away,” he said.
Torres and Williams are team leaders, more like big brothers. Part of their role in the family is to ensure things don’t get out of hand when it comes to hazing.
“We don’t believe in that at all,” Torres said. “If someone did come in and were to act like that…just because of the tight-knit family we have, we wouldn’t allow it.”
What these guys have discovered is what the experts know to be a key to success—students are self-aware enough to know where to draw the line.
“If I see it and it's happening, it's just gonna have to stop,” Williams said. I’m gonna have to speak up and just make sure it doesn't continue.”
Even as the jokester, Price knows not to let things go too far.
The Driving Force Behind Hazing
Adrienne Langelier, a licensed professional counselor who works with athletes, says she was once a player herself.
“Whether it's running, football, volleyball, I've stood in their shoes,” she said.
Langelier says hazing can creep in innocently enough. New players are forced to gather balls after practice or maybe get water for teammates.
It's about hierarchy and may not always be a problem, she says.
“A lot of these players tend to downplay hazing because, simply, that's what they had when they were coming through,” she said. “To them, it's the norm. It's not a big deal and they rationalize it away typically.”
Langelier says victims are introduced to the system at a time when they are vulnerable.
“They want to belong. They work up the hierarchy, and I know, I've actually talked to people who have been on both sides of hazing, and they can attest to it as well,” she said. “They look forward to getting a chance to do so.”
But the dividing line in hazing has to be clear to administrators, to coaches, and to kids.
“It's very scary and it's usually motivated by power. Chances are, many of these people engage and cross the line in the most severe generally, probably have some degree of psychopathology,” she said. “And this could be anger issues, depression, bipolar. There’s a host of things that could be behind this.”
With so many serious issues at play, combatting hazing must start with adults — especially in the area of supervision.
Surovik says it's imperative to have eyes on your players at all times and it starts at school.
“We have coaches that are in the locker room that are designated in the locker room to make sure that doesn't take place,” he said.
Langelier says if parents or coaches notice a chance in a student’s behavior, it could indicate they’ve been a victim of hazing.
“Somebody who was outgoing may be more withdrawn,” she said. “I think that’s a big red flag right there.”
She says coaches can form leadership roles for players on the team as a way to prevent hazing. She also suggests creating a competitive, yet positive, environment.
“How can we inspire unity without intimidation, fear, division, hostility,” Langelier said.
Hazed to Death
There are clear consequences for not standing guard, not formulating a plan and not taking action when hazing occurs.
Less than a week ago, a Vermont school district was found negligent in the 2012 death of a student who committed suicide after he was hazed. It was not the only hazing death on record.
The stakes could not be higher when it comes to preventing these acts of humiliation and violence.
“There is actual trauma, depression, anxiety. That just shows how intense and how dangerous these experiences can be,” Langelier said.