Four Elk River High School football players will be kicked off the varsity team for this season for their roles in hazing incidents early last week, the Elk River school board ruled at a special meeting Sunday night.

Three other players will be suspended for four games, and another two will have to sit out one game, according to the district's superintendent. There are about 50 players on the varsity squad.

After meeting for nearly two hours in closed session, board members decided to briefly open their meeting to take action against the players. The board later voted to reinstate seven coaches from paid administrative leave and to keep five other coaches on leave pending final outcome of the district's investigation this week.

The hazing involved players striking or poking other players on or near the buttocks in the high school wrestling room.

"These are good kids, and they made a mistake," Superintendent Mark Bezek said after the board acted. "But it's a serious mistake."

The football team will also have to undergo sensitivity training in an effort to prevent future incidents, Bezek said.

Privacy laws prevented the school board or Bezek from naming the players who were disciplined. The superintendent said he did not know how important the disciplined players are to the team, which will resume practice Monday.

"The reaction by the school board was appropriate," Bezek said. "I'm very pleased with the outcome of the investigation conducted by the staff. Staff had the information needed to deal with this."

District officials were aided in their investigation by the Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney law firm of Minneapolis.

Mike Cross, the football team's head coach, and two assistant coaches reached late Sunday declined to comment.

As the board met, some team members and supporters gathered at the nearby high school to await a possible decision. A couple of team members reached by phone late Sunday declined to comment, but some team members have said that they believe the incidents were blown out of proportion.

Home opener is Thursday

Last Wednesday, the district suspended the high school varsity football program through the weekend after a parent complained about the hazing. It apparently occurred Monday and Tuesday between morning and afternoon football practices.

According to Elk River police Chief Jeffrey Beahen, players were accosted in the school wrestling room, forced to the floor and struck with broom handles. The players were wearing their football gear and were not forced to disrobe.

Although initial complaints came from parents of black players, district and school officials soon discovered that white players were also hazed, according to a Star Tribune source. The choice of hazing victims appeared to be random.

Players and coaches were questioned about the hazing Wednesday and Thursday. Elk River police also investigated the incidents, which apparently were a repeat of hazing episodes last year. Beahen said, though, that no parents or players have shown any interest in pursuing criminal charges so far, preferring for the district to discipline those involved in the hazing incidents.

The football team's season starts at home Thursday against Becker.

Norman Draper • 612-673-4547