A Lacrosse team goes bad and a Catholic school circles the wagons

By Hank Nuwer

Riddle: When is a news release not a news release?

Answer: When the news release contains a boldface misstatement and raises more questions than it answers.

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Hank Nuwer is a professor emeritus with Franklin College's Pulliam School of Journalism.

Such is the case with a murky news release distributed this week by the administration of St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland’s Roman Catholic diocese.

The release says that says 17 of approximately 35 rugby players were suspended for throwing a hazing party in which alcohol was served.

But get this. “Hazing activities vary in severity and exist along a continuum,” the news-less release declares.  “While the behavior at the gathering was grossly inappropriate, at no time was the physical safety of a student at risk.”

What planet do St. Ignatius administrators live on?

Just last week schoolboy Sam Patton died of an alcohol overdose during a rugby initiation in Britain.

This year, baseball player James Gilfedder died during an alleged boozy initiation thrown by Lyon College teammates in Arkansas.

Stone Foltz at Bowling Green State University and Adam Oakes of Virginia Commonwealth University also perished in 2021, following fraternity initiations fueled by alcohol.

Or maybe the president has heard about Nick Haben, a Western Illinois University player who perished following a drunken initiation in 1990? The rookie’s lacrosse teammates coerced him into drinking bottle after bottle.

Not at risk. Did you get your butt to Confession over that whopper, Father Ray?

I thought Jesuits were supposed to be the smart order.

Pressed by reporters, the school admitted police were not involved.

Last I checked, serving alcohol to under-aged students is classified as a crime.

Did any kids drive after the party? That would be unconscionable, but school president, the Rev. Raymond P. Guiao, Ignatius ’82, won’t say.

Contacted by phone and emailed questions, President Guiao has not responded.

In addition to Father Ray, questions were sent to Coach Mason Wynocker, media director Joseph Mertonis, and former player Drew Roggenburk, well known in Ohio lacrosse circles. They remain zip-lipped.

Were any parents present during the hazing with liquor?  Former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jack Trudeau was charged for serving teens booze in his home.

What about the coaches? Were they disciplined for having too loose a hand on the helm?

Don’t ask me for that riddle’s answer. It sure isn’t in the news release.

But I found something interesting by going to the St. Ignatius web site for lacrosse information. 

Significantly, when you click on the link to lacrosse coaches in 2021, the space is blank.

Were the coaches suspended or fired--or is the blank link a webmaster omission?

Also of significance, five coaches listed on the 2020 lacrosse roster played lacrosse for St. Ignatius. The place is downright incestuous.

One question not answered in the release is how far back the tradition of an initiation party goes.

I asked Mrs. Evelyn Piazza, an activist and mother of Tim Piazza who died following a Penn State hazing party what she thinks about the school and coaches.

“They tarnished their image and reputation, but this is a crime that should be prosecuted!” she wrote me.

“If they had been drinking and driving, would they have not been prosecuted because they are in high school? No, the law is the law regardless of age – hold them accountable for actions that were dangerous and could have been deadly! They played Russian Roulette with alcohol and got lucky that no one died – of course this was dangerous.”

Of course, the Diocese of Cleveland bears some responsibility here in not pressing the president to show some transparency in this case.

A mudslide is more transparent than St Ignatius High School.

So, you can bet your biretta this story is far from over just because an administration gives out baloney and thinks the public will swallow it.

There are lots more questions needing to be tossed at Father Ray by local media.  

Were any of the suspended boys two-sport athletes? If so, have other St. Ignatius teams engaged in hazing and/or alcohol parties?

Will he cancel a 2021 sports camp for young athletes? Sports camps have been notorious for hazing kids below high school age.

Time for one last riddle.

What does the president of St. Ignatius get when scandals have him up to his neck in sand?

More sand.

Hank Nuwer is a Franklin College PSJ emeritus professor. He is the author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives.

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