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OGDEN — The night of May 4 was supposed to be a night of pizza and makeovers for the newest members of the cheerleading squad at Ogden High School. But once the blindfolds were pulled out, school officials say it crossed the line.
There's a rich tradition of cheerleading at Ogden High School, but it's what's happening out of the gym that has school officials concerned.
We believe that some sort of initiation has taken place every year for our cheerleaders and it has gone under the radar.
–Donna Corby, Ogden School District
"We believe that some sort of initiation has taken place every year for our cheerleaders and it has gone under the radar," said Donna Corby, spokeswoman for the Ogden School District.
Officials said a recent initiation with the squad went too far. On May 4, nine senior cheerleaders took 16 incoming cheerleaders to Forest Green Park. Blindfolded, the newcomers were then covered with ketchup, mustard, pickle juice, peanut butter and flour — possibly even urine.
"We had a young lady with a peanut allergy, and (she) had to use her (epinephrine) pen," Corby said.
Last Monday, a parent of one of the new cheerleaders reported the hazing to school officials. As the school investigated, more cheerleaders and parents came forward. Some claimed the senior cheerleaders called the newcomers vulgar names and then had them strip down to their underwear to be hosed off.
At first they were just rather stunned that this was happening to them; I don't know what they thought was going to happen when they were blindfolded and taken to the park, I think they were just a little bit… 'Did this really happen to us?'
–Donna Corby, Ogden School District
"At first they were just rather stunned that this was happening to them," Corby said. "I don't know what they thought was going to happen when they were blindfolded and taken to the park, I think they were just a little bit… ‘Did this really happen to us?'"
The nine senior cheerleaders at Ogden High have been suspended one to five days. Many missed their prom, which was held over the weekend. Those who are 18 could also face criminal charges.
Psychology behind hazing
According to stophazing.org, hazing rituals like this have been around as long as human organizations. "A lot of times the personality of the individual becomes very different when they become part of a group, and the group has a very different personality," the site states.
Dr. David Parker, associate director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Center for Community of Caring Institute at the University of Utah, works across the country helping schools establish safe environments: cultures without hazing, bullying or other degrading actions.
He says incidents like this often start out innocent enough but quickly spiral out of control.
- Date: Thursday, May 17
- Time: 7:15 p.m.
- Location: Ogden Main Library Auditorium, 2464 Jefferson Ave., Ogden
"I feel that the students who were involved in this hazing incident did not start off thinking, ‘I'm going to make these people miserable and affect their lives negatively for the rest of their life,'" Parker said.
Punishment too harsh?
Meanwhile, some students at Ogden High feel the hazing is tradition and the district is being too harsh.
"They blew it out of proportion I think," said student Carl Catalin.
"They told me that everybody knew it was going to happen, and they said 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,'" said Lily Sanchez, another student.
School officials said they know other male students were involved in the hazing — and they too will face disciplinary action when they are found. The district has asked the suspended cheerleaders to apologize when 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.
This is the second hazing incident at Ogden High School in as many years. District officials said they plan to speak with the students and faculty and remind them that hazing of any kind is not allowed. As for the cheerleader advisor, the district said she was unaware of what was happening because the girls arranged everything on their own.