TAMAQUA, SCHUYLKILL COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Eyewitness News first reported Tamaqua Area School District officials and police were investigating an incident involving members of the high school football team.
Up until now, authorities would not say what the incident was. But that changed Tuesday night at a school board meeting when Larry Wittig, Tamaqua Area School Board president, commented on the “incident” that stopped Friday night’s football game last week and gave Eyewitness News answers.
Monday afternoon, the school board released a statement detailing that they are looking into the incident and police are involved. Concerned parents say they are being left in the dark and are looking for answers.
Five days after the incident that sparked a police investigation and ended the football season early district officials announced it was an act of hazing. Tuesday night, Wittig insisted this would not be ‘swept under the rug’.
“We will work to pursue this until the end”… “This will not be swept under the rug.”Larry Wittig, Tamaqua Area School Board President
“The school district is not…is not about to push anything under the rug or hide things or prevent people from knowing. Having said that, these students have rights,” Wittig said.
Wittig addressed the alleged hazing incident at Tamaqua Area High School during the regular committee meeting Tuesday night. He started by condemning the speculation on social media.
“The perpetrators, the victims, all those have rights, and they’re also young and you don’t go out blasting things, particularly prematurely, which I’m suggesting on social media was way premature. They had people getting fired, they have all kinds of nonsense,” Wittig said.
District officials say the event involved members of the football team and happened around 6:30 Thursday evening in the team’s field house. How the incident was uncovered is still unclear. But Wittig says administrators and parents involved met with Tamaqua Police later that night.
Concern and confusion among the school community began the next day when the athletic director announced that Tamaqua would forfeit their playoff game due to a “situation within the school.”
There are claims that this hazing incident was violent in nature, but this has not been confirmed. Jessica Harper, who attended the meeting, says she and other parents want to make sure charges are filed. She also believes there is a history of bullying in Tamaqua Area schools.
“I believe if all of us parents weren’t pushing as much as we are, it definitely would have been swept under the rug. I think something needs to be done, so that this does not happen again and be a lesson learned to other county schools,” Harper said.
Hazing is a criminal offense in Pennsylvania. Wittig says the board has no control over the police investigation. However, he says the district is conducting its own investigation and will pursue this ‘to the end’.
Governor Tom Wolf signed the “Timothy J. Piazza Anti-Hazing Law” in 2018. Piazza was a sophomore at Penn State who died during a fraternity hazing ritual.
The law requires schools to combat hazing and report hazing incidents. It also classifies hazing incidents that result in severe injury or death as felonies. Hazing that’s reasonably likely to injure someone constitutes a misdemeanor.
As to what falls under the definition of hazing, Pennsylvania law defines hazing as making someone break the law, consume alcohol or drugs that put them in emotional or physical harm, endure brutality of a sexual or physical nature, such as whipping, beating or branding, sleep deprivation or extreme embarrassment in order to be a part of a group. Criminal charges would depend on the degree of hazing and whether any other crimes were committed during the incident.