Penalties were meted out against nine Elk River football players late last month after a hazing incident, but fallout continued in unexpected ways:
Gatherings of the team were disrupted by passersby yelling "rapist!" from car windows.
One time, players were taunted by someone waving a broomstick, an unsubtle allusion to the hazing episode, in which several players, in football gear, were struck or poked with broom handles around the buttocks.
Now, Elk River High players, coaches and the district want to move on, though some loose ends remain.
On Friday, the team played its second game since the episode, rejoined by two players who had been suspended for one contest. Hours earlier, six coaches who had been disciplined held a brief news conference. Head Coach Mike Cross issued a statement strongly supporting the district's anti-hazing policies while noting the investigation confirmed that no coaches were involved in or aware of the hazing.
The players who returned to action for Friday's game, which Rogers won 55-0, were Aaron Pipenhagen and John Anderson, seniors who were stripped of their positions as captains in addition to sitting out one game.
In interviews with the Star Tribune, Pipenhagen, his father, Jon, and Anderson's father said they have not had a clear explanation for why the two players were disciplined; both have said they were not present when the hazing occurred. The Pipenhagens and Anderson's father, also named John, said they wanted to set the record straight.
The Pipenhagens said that, on Aug. 23, Aaron was among players eating lunch in the wrestling room after a practice. When he left, he said, some of his teammates were wrestling, messing around. "If I would have seen something bad, I would have told right away," he said.
Pipenhagen said he knows the difference between horseplay and hazing. "It crosses a line when someone is trying to do it to personally humiliate someone and hurt them in a manner that they're not going to feel the same." What he saw, he said, was "kids wrestling each other."
Anderson said his son recalled crossing the room to get ice for a sore knee and only seeing players hanging out.
Jon Pipenhagen was at the school with other parents on Aug. 30 when player penalties were handed down. Four players were kicked off the team, three suspended for four games, and Pipenhagen and Anderson for one. Jon Pipenhagen said he saw John Anderson walking to the school office. "That's when I realized they were really, really going to come down on the captains," he said. He paused. "I was so saddened. If you've played high school football you realize how important your senior year is."
The captains were told they had violated Bylaw 206, the State High School League's Code of Conduct. It covers respect for people, property and the law, and responsibility for one's actions. Both families say they want to know how their sons' actions put them in violation.
Citing data privacy, district spokesman Casey Mahon declined to comment on individual students' cases.
Both families will meet with Superintendent Mark Bezek on Monday. They hope to have their sons' captain status restored.
In a statement to the Star Tribune, the district reiterated its zero-tolerance hazing policy and defended the course it took. "The decisions made related to [the football program] were made based on two investigations. The school district coordinated with law enforcement and followed School Board Policy 7026 and Minnesota State High School League rules. Throughout, we acted responsibly, appropriately and legally."
All spoke of moving on.
The district: "Our hope is that we can now move forward with educating, inspiring and empowering our students, to shape their futures, to accomplish their dreams and contribute positively to their ... communities."
Cross: "Our focus is back on football. We are glad to be moving forward and focusing on our student-athletes and their success on and off the field."
Aaron Pipenhagen: "If you could reverse time, we would, but the only thing we can do is come together as a team and just go out there and kick ass.
"We'd have been better [last week] with nine more guys but this is a rallying point. Now we're playing without seven guys. We've got to play for those seven guys who can't."
Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409