BLUE EARTH, MINN. – Blue Earth Area High School canceled its postseason football awards banquet in the wake of criminal charges against four players who allegedly beat a teammate unconscious at a party in mid-October.

The team's coaching staff sent a letter to players and their parents last week notifying them of the decision to call off the banquet, an annual celebration of the team's achievements. Blue Earth finished the season with a 7-5 record and made a run to the state playoffs.

"We had a lot of positives happen this season and players that deserve recognition," the coaching staff wrote. "But due to the extenuating circumstances at the end of the season, we will not be having our traditional banquet."

With the investigation of the alleged beating "still ongoing," the coaches wrote, "we don't want to put anyone in an uncomfortable position."

Coaches instead held an informal pizza party for players Sunday, the day the banquet had been scheduled.

The alleged assault took place Oct. 18 at a house party in Winnebago, a town of about 1,500 residents just a few miles from Blue Earth. What exactly prompted the incident has yet to be disclosed. But Winnebago police didn't begin investigating the case until three weeks later — Nov. 9 — after learning of it from a Faribault County sheriff's deputy who is a school resource officer at Blue Earth Area High School.

According to court documents and testimony, four Blue Earth Area players beat their 16-year-old teammate unconscious and took video of the attack, showing it to him the next day.

The victim's father, Dale Hurley, said Monday that the alleged attackers also showed the video to other teammates in the locker room.

While players knew what happened, Hurley said his son, a sophomore lineman, covered up his injuries in the days that followed, not wanting to inform on his teammates.

The boy explained away a swollen face and a black eye by saying a friendly wrestling match had gotten a little rough, his father said.

Later, when he suffered headaches and began vomiting, he told his parents he had the flu. He continued to attend football practice and played in two of the team's playoff games.

Finally, his ongoing headaches and vomiting prompted his parents to take him to a doctor's office, where his concussions were diagnosed, said his mother, Tonya Hurley. While there, the boy told of the beating.

Tonya Hurley said she reported the alleged assault to school authorities immediately after the trip to the doctor's office on Nov. 6 — four days before the team's quarterfinal playoff game against Pipestone.

While her son did not play in that game, which Blue Earth lost, the four players who allegedly attacked him did. Days after the season-ending game, authorities arrested the four. All were charged on Nov. 20 with felonies ranging from assault to aiding and abetting.

Two of the players charged appeared in Faribault County District Court Monday afternoon.

Senior Blake Barnett, 17, pleaded not guilty to charges of third-degree assault and aiding and abetting third-degree assault. District Judge Douglas Richards scheduled a Jan. 3 pretrial hearing for Barnett, who has moved with his family to Des Moines.

Sophomore Caden Ochsendorf, 16, of Winnebago, also appeared in court Monday, but because he was 15 at the time of the alleged beating, state law required that his hearing be closed to the public. Ochsendorf is also charged with third-degree assault and aiding and abetting.

Lawyers for both teens declined to comment after the hearings.

Two other teammates also face charges.

Wyatt Tungland, 18, of Frost, is charged with third-degree assault and aiding and abetting third-degree assault. Dalton Nagel, 18, of Blue Earth is charged with third-degree aiding and abetting. Both are scheduled to make court appearances later this month.

Dale Hurley, meanwhile, said his son didn't return to school until last week, and still suffers the aftereffects of primary and secondary concussions.

"I want to do everything I can to keep those boys from coming back to school," Dale Hurley said, adding that he's sorry for the deserving football players who didn't get to celebrate their season at an annual awards banquet in front of friends and parents. "That is all being lost because of this."

John Reinan • 612-673-7402