The Elk River High School varsity football team opens its season this Thursday, but the Elks won't have nine of their players with them.
That's because four of them have been kicked off the team and five others have been suspended for their role in a hazing incident. The punishments were handed down Sunday night by the Elk River School Board.
It was the first time the Elk River school board met since allegations of hazing first surfaced last week. The initial reaction from the district had been to suspend the football program, meaning players couldn't practice as a team. But after meeting for more than four hours behind closed doors, board members unanimously approved additional punishments.
"There will be two players receiving a one-game suspension; three players receiving a four-game suspension [and] also a one-week practice suspension," Board Chair Sue Farber announced. "And four players are to be removed from the football team."
The board did not publicly name the players, citing data privacy laws. Five coaches were also kept on administrative leave while the investigation continues, though seven coaches were reinstated.
Just a few blocks away, players, parents and other students had gathered on the lawn in front of Elk River High School to await the decision.
Senior John Anderson, one of the team captains this year, said those responsible should have been punished but he disagrees with the initial decision to suspend the entire program.
"From what I'm going to guess is it was a couple -- not bad kids, but just a couple kids screwing around in the wrestling room that just did something not smart at the time," Anderson said. "I don't think everyone should be punished for that."
In that respect, the school board agreed and lifted the suspension that had been on the entire varsity program. That means the team can start practicing again and can play this Thursday's season opener as scheduled.
As for the incident in question, the district won't say exactly what happened. But police have said some players reported being struck or poked by other players with a broom handle on their backsides or legs. No injuries were ever reported and no criminal charges have been filed.
One parent who didn't want to be recorded said her own son had been hit like that last year and her son didn't feel it was a big deal. The parent also agreed that nothing that physical should ever happen.
Senior Tyler Rosendahl was informed by reporters that four of his teammates were being kicked off the team.
"We're a family and we're being broken up because of a joke that's gotten way out of proportion," Rosendahl said.
The school board, in handing down the punishments, also commended district leaders for the way they've handled the situation.
"I'm sorry if they think it was blown out of proportion, but I'll tell you, this is a serious matter," said Superintendent Mark Bezek. "If my kid was in that situation, I would have done just what those parents did and I'd be right in there and I'd want some answers."
Bezek said the players who are being disciplined will learn their fate later today. The entire team also must go through hazing training, which includes all team members and their parents signing a form that acknowledges their understanding of the district's policy.