La Puente soccer players say they feared school hazing ritual
Four members of the La Puente High School boys' soccer team who have alleged they were sexually assaulted claim the ritual was known as the "pole tradition" and it left new members terrified to walk into the school equipment room.
In a legal claim against the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District, the parents of the youths paint a distressing picture of a team on which seniors would sodomize new members with a stick in a storage room near the coach's office.
Four senior members of the soccer team have been arrested on suspicion of assault and their coach was placed on leave.
Sheriff's Sgt. Dan Scott said investigators have identified at least four victims and that the coach is under investigation, though they had no direct evidence of his participation.
“There are many more victims but most fear retaliation if they report it” said attorney Brian Claypool, who represents the four youths. He said he was aware of a fifth victim and was planning to file a claim on his behalf. School officials declined to comment.
Claypool alleged the school actually expelled one of the victims after he reported being attacked. The 17-year-old boy who was expelled was “brutally assaulted" last May after he entered the storage room to return some equipment, the claim alleges.
When authorities first began their investigation in September, the youth denied knowing about the hazing ritual. But several days later, after talking with his mother, he told the assistant principal what had happened, Claypool said.
The legal claim, which seeks damages from the school district, alleges that the assistant principal retaliated and wrongfully expelled him for being an accomplice to hazing. The claim further alleges that two 14-year-old boys also reported they had been attacked in the back room and were subjected to the hazing ritual.
A 15-year-old who claims he was attacked said he was able to fight off older team members but was left battered and bruised, the claim says.
According to the claim, as the youth left the facility, the coach was “standing right outside of the room smiling at him" but the smile went away when one of the older players told the coach that he “did not get it.”
Hacienda La Puente Unified School District Supt. Barbara Nakaoka said she could not comment on the investigation.
-- Richard Winton
Photo: Concerned parent Manuel Maldonado listens to details of the alleged sexual hazing of boys on the varsity soccer team at La Puente High School. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times