The Seneca Valley High School Football team endured the worst season in the school’s storied football season, finishing with a losing record for the just the second time since 1974, but perhaps the worst news to come out of the program was that multiple members of the football team bullied or hazed another team member in the locker room.
The incident took place in the locker room at Seneca Valley High School on September 18, according to police. The Montgomery County Police investigated allegations of unwanted sexual touching among football players at Seneca Valley,” said MCPD spokesman Thomas Jordan. However, Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Derek Turner said the incident was not sexual.
“It was reported as sexual, but after investigation, it was concluded not to be sexual in nature,” said Turner.
Police and school administrators investigated the incident and found that multiple players were involved in the incident. However, investigators were unable to find direct evidence of an assault without further cooperation from the unidentified victim.
“After speaking with the complainant, school administrators, and the victim, it was unclear whether the allegations amounted to an assault,” said Jordan. “Ultimately, the alleged victim did not want to pursue the case, and no charges were filed."
According to MCPS officials, disciplinary action was taken against multiple students, and two adult coaches were reprimanded for lack of supervision. Turner would not say what coaches were reprimanded, or specify if the coaches were MCPS employees beyond their coaching duties.
The incident occurred on Sept. 18, three days after the teams’ football game against cross-town rival Northwest High School, which Seneca Valley lost in a blowout.
Team discussions have since focused on the harm of such behavior and the importance of respect and sportsmanship, according to MCPS officials.
Seneca Valley Head Coach Fred Kim spoke to Germantown Pulse about his team’s behavior on and off the field after a game on Oct. 5 — which was after the incident was reported to police but before it was made public. That game, which Seneca Valley lost 26-14 to Magruder High School, was marred by numerous personal foul penalties committed by both teams. While Kim did not address any specific incident, he spoke about his team’s challenging behavior this season.
“Every week is some kind of a drama,” said Kim, “somebody is suspended for whatever reason. We haven’t played with a full deck all year. We haven’t played with a full projected starting line up yet this year. We’ve had numerous suspensions.” But, Kim didn’t go into detail at the time.
Kim who is an alumnus of the Seneca Valley and former player for the storied football school said, “As a coaching staff, we hold our kids accountable. We’ve taken more accountability measures this year for when they didn’t uphold the standards that we require as a team. We never start practice normally. There is always something that we have to do to hold somebody accountable. Our season is a reflection of that.”
In a candid interview, Kim questioned whether he would continue coaching the Screamin’ Eagles. “We are trying to figure out as a staff what is going on here. I am thinking to myself, ‘Man, am I the right guy here anymore? I am a Seneca alum, but it is a changing community. I am from that old guard. Have I lost touch with how to connect with today’s kids? I do a lot of studying about how coaches are coaching today’s kids,” said Kim, who just ended his 15 season as head coach at Seneca Valley. “My strategies are much different now than they were in the past. I try to follow what some of the most successful coaches are doing, and it hasn’t worked. I am using the tactics — based on in my research — that work for reaching today’s kids, but it’s not working for us,” Kim said back on Oct. 4.
According to a Turner, MCPS did a training program on sportsmanship and respect for the Seneca Valley football team.
“Abuse, bullying, hazing, and harassment, in any form, have no place in the MCPS athletics program,” said MCPS Director of Athletics Jeffery Sullivan in a letter to all parents on Nov. 7, in response to the rape and assault allegations against five members of the Damascus High School football team in what officials are calling a hazing incident. “Students who engage in such activities are not welcome in our program and, at a minimum, such activities may result in immediate dismissal from the team. Additionally, teams that promote or engage in such activities will be subject to team sanctions, including forfeiture of contest(s). In short, donning the uniform of one of our schools and representing MCPS in the realm of competition is a cherished privilege. Students and teams who engage in these harmful and despicable behaviors will not represent their schools or our program as a whole.”
Turner said MCPS has directed all athletic directors, coaches and school activity sponsors to engage with students about bullying harassment and hazing. The school district “reminded all coaches and athletic directors about their responsibility to supervise the locker room,” said Turner. MCPS Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith sent a video out to students outlining the process for reporting and bringing attention to bullying or abuse in schools.
“It is my responsibility to address issues of climate or culture that can lead to bullying, hazing, harassment, and abuse,” said Dr. Smith in the video. “I am directing athletic directors, coaches, and student advisors from across this school system to begin engaging students about what they are seeing and experiencing to ensure that these behaviors are not happening on their teams or clubs.”
Even before the news of the alleged incident at Seneca Valley broke, Kim and the coaching staff took steps to help their players cope with the pressures of being student-athletes. Many football players at Seneca Valley are part of the ACE Project, which encourages student-athletes to give back to their community off-the-field, and Coach Kim brought in a character coach Matt McCabe, to inspire students through character-building workshops each week, the program also brought in the Lead ‘Em Up program to help student-athletes make proper choices.
The school has used the Lead ‘Em Up program in the past, most recently to provide leadership to the varsity basketball team. The Lead ‘Em Up program provides high school coaches an engaging, cutting-edge curriculum designed to train coaches to teach their players the dynamics of leadership and character.
Kim and the Seneca Valley football program were part a series of videos produced by UpWorthy.com highlighting the way Kim and his staff were attempting to influence the issues facing many student-athletes at the school in a more positive manner. The camera crew from UpWorthy.com was at the Sept. 7 game against Gaithersburg High School filming the game and the players’ interactions. The production crew also interviewed players off the field and talked to parents and non-players to produce a video which in part shows the challenges of many players off the field, and the often extraordinary steps the coaches take to help guide their young players through those challenges. The alleged incident took place about a week after that on Tuesday, Sept. 18.
After his teams’ loss to Magruder in October, the same week that the UpWorthy.com videos were being released to public, Kim stressed, “We make mistakes. We do our best to build character in our players, but we make mistakes.”
Top: Seneca Valley High School in Germantown.
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Video: MCPS video on "Resources Regarding to Responding to Allegations of Bullying, Harassment, Hazing and Intimidation."
Next: Seneca Valley’s football team ended their worst season ever with a 2-8 record.
Photos by Germantown Pulse, video courtesy MCPS.