How the HSU soccer teams were punished for rookie parties
Written by Colleen Chalmers
Additional reporting by David Broome Jr.
Photographed by Colleen Chalmers, Kristina Naderi & Jeremy Smith-Danford
Editor’s note: Osprey chose to keep the names of the rookies private.
It was Saturday, Aug. 4 and the Humboldt State men’s soccer team held its annual initiation for nine new players. The rookies wore nothing but adult diapers and were forced to take turns holding a dildo at a house party in Arcata. The teammates played drinking games together, but none of them would go on to play a soccer game this season.
On the same night, the women’s team held a party for its eight new members, who they dressed up in costumes and makeup while drinking pink-panty-droppers — a punch made with vodka, beer and pink lemonade.
The university punished the soccer teams for hazing; the men lost their whole season and the women were banned from playing their first three games. The Osprey interviewed HSU president Rollin Richmond over the telephone. He gave detail of the two parties: “They were made to take their clothes off and put on diapers, and there were drinking games of much too much alcohol,” he said of the men’s party. “And for the women, they had to run up some stairs and drink some alcohol and then run and go back like a relay,” Richmond said.
Osprey found out from the soccer players what really happened that night, as well as the story of the university’s investigation.
They were like most college parties: there was pizza and beer. But then the initiation began. “I guess if you look at the technical definition of hazing, then it was hazing,” said senior team captain Peter Darquea. “But if you asked any of the rookies if they had a good time, they’d say yeah.”
Osprey spoke with one rookie on the men’s team who admitted that he was hazed during the initiation. “I was hazed that night, but I also never laughed so much since the party,” the rookie said.
All but one of the 34 players on the men’s soccer team were at the party, and they crowded one of the member’s houses near H and 18th Streets. The men were dancing and singing along to Carly Rae Jepson’s Call Me, Maybe — the song made popular by the summer’s U.S. Olympic Swim Team. “It was stupid dancing, more than anything,” said senior player Austin Swartz. “We were just letting loose, like laughing and making fun of each other.”
After they ate pizza and drank Pabst beer from a keg, they played an initiation game where the rookies changed into adult diapers and passed around a dildo throughout the night.
“They didn’t have to do a strip dance, some just went around a corner to change. And no one was not allowed to go to the bathroom during the party. No one shit their diaper,” said junior player Jordan Zogg. “They had to keep the dildo amongst themselves — one of the nine had to hold it the whole night, like hot potato. But they just had to hold it, they didn’t have to do anything with it,” he said.
Every time Darquea blew a whistle, the one holding the dildo took a shot of rum and if the dildo was found out of a rookie’s hands, each had to take a shot. For this game, the upperclassmen poured the rum into shot glasses for the rookies and handed them out each time.
The new players then had to share a mystery drink from a big gulp cup with beer, hard alcohol, instant noodles, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and other food items in it. “We requested that the drink was consumed,” said senior player Michael Powell.
Then red, plastic cups were secured to their hands with pink duct tape. “We didn’t pour alcohol in the cups for the rookies to drink. The taped cups were just to make it awkward for them to move around,” Powell said. The new players used the cups taped to their hands to drink alcohol they poured for themselves.
Later, the rookies competed in a wine-chugging contest, with two four-gallon bottles of wine between the nine of them. “You have to finish this,” Darquea told the new players. “But we would ask ‘hey man, are you good to do this?’ and we would check on them. We didn’t force it down their throat,” he said.
After the initiation, the rookies took off their adult diapers and put their clothes back on. All the teammates then played drinking games such as king’s cup, flip cup and beer pong.
Later in the evening, Arcata police arrived at the house for a noise complaint, according to Swartz. “I was in the back of the house when they came, so I didn’t physically see them,” he said. “But they came after the initiation, so nothing was really going on other than loud music.”
A block south of campus, all 27 members of the women’s team attended their party at one of the player’s house. They started off their initiation by dressing up the rookies in costumes and applying makeup to their faces.
“Some of the costumes were like a funny old woman’s dress and a red wig, a leotard and a swim cap, and a nightgown,” said senior player Tamra James.
First, they played a game called “stairmaster,” where most of the rookies would stand at the top of a staircase and chug half a beer before running to the bottom step to chug the rest. “That was the first game we played, because we thought it was kind of dangerous, so we had them do it when they weren’t drunk,” James said.
Then, some of the women drank pink-panty-droppers in a relay game where rookies had to run to a bowl of the punch and chug it from a large soup ladle.
According to James, one of the rookies informed the seniors that she had never had alcohol before. “We had one freshman who didn’t drink at all, so we made sure she was okay and didn’t drink,” James said.
To finish initiation, the rookies changed out of their costumes and all the team members joined in a music game where each player chose a song to sing out loud for the group, with the music playing only in the woman’s ear. “It wasn’t by any means trying to hurt someone or initiate them,” James said. “We just wanted to get drunk, have fun and be girls for a night, and not just soccer players.”
In the case of both parties, senior players planned the initiation events. Darquea and James confirm they took part in the party planning. “The seniors chose the potential games to play,” James said.
“I got together with three other seniors a week before, just to talk about getting things organized, getting people there and getting a keg,” Darquea said. “Not all of the games are traditions, but they’ve happened in the past.”
Darquea, Swartz, Zogg and Powell all confirm they wore a diaper for their rookie initiation when they were a new player.
Two days after the parties, someone called the university and reported the men’s rookie initiation, according to HSU vice president of student affairs Peg Blake. The university began an investigation of the men’s team, looking into possible hazing allegations. Soon after, the university received word of the women’s party and started to look into similar allegations.
Darquea, Swartz, Powell, Zogg and James do not know who reported their parties. “We have our suspicions, but we aren’t going to act on it,” Powell said.
Darquea said the soccer team is family. The team began practicing in late July — almost a month before school started. During this time, the rookie players lived with some of the upperclassman on the team. “We try to instill a brotherly bond in the beginning,” Powell said.
“They’re comfortable enough to live with us, and they realized even more that we are family on the night of the party,” Zogg said. “It hits them, and we show we want to be a family. You should be able to show humility in front of your family.”
Players on the team said they were punished for something they did not understand. “We didn’t know we were hazing. It was never meant to be something harmful. It was supposed to be bonding,” Swartz said. “We weren’t trying to kill people. They’re our teammates.”
James agrees. She says her teammates are all best friends and they would not hurt each other. “I guess we did haze, but we didn’t know that was the definition. We thought that it was okay if they agreed to it,” James said.
Before the women’s party, the rookies signed a release the seniors wrote, stating the rookies were aware they would be drinking alcohol and gave consent for the activities. “That sounds bad because we had them sign something, so I guess we were doing something wrong, and I guess the consent doesn’t matter because hazing is singling someone out and we did that,” James said. “If we had known the definition of hazing, then we as the upperclassman would have dressed up and participated in everything with them, so it wouldn’t be hazing — it would just be girls being silly.”
Assistant dean of students Tomas Aguirre, who led the investigations of both teams, said the soccer initiations on Aug. 4 were much like any college party. “Hazing is something with a lot of gray area. There’s a big difference between hazing and initiation and I don’t think it is clear what that difference is.”
According to the California code of regulations’ student conduct standards, hazing is defined as “any method of initiation or pre-initiation into a student organization or student body… which is likely to cause serious bodily injury… and in addition, any act likely to cause physical harm, personal degradation or disgrace resulting in physical or mental harm.”
Blake said that hazing can happen when individuals want to belong. “It’s possible that they did feel degraded or humiliated, and they will never admit that. It’s also possible that they didn’t, but someone else could have,” she said.
Assistant athletics director Stephanie Lane said some students and parents were unhappy with the investigation, which involved interviews and meetings between administration and team members.
Lane said the students did not trust the interviewers. “The interviewers weren’t monsters, but students were uncomfortable with how the investigation was going and didn’t feel safe,” she said. “They felt like everything they said was misconstrued, like whatever they said was going to be used against them.”
Aguirre had prior knowledge of the parties and the initiation games before the investigation began. “If the student doesn’t own their behavior and if they’re lying, that’s going to be another part of the student code of conduct. If you lie to an official, that’s another charge,” he said.
Darquea said that Aguirre tried to catch them not telling the truth. “It was like they wanted to catch us up in lies because they already knew,” he said.
Between both investigations, seven other administrators helped Aguirre conduct the interviews: dean of students Randi Darnall Burke, student affairs director of special projects Robin Jones, director of housing John Capaccio, associate director of housing Patty O’Rourke-Andrews, residence life coordinator Nathan Meints, residence life coordinator Heather Pearson and area coordinator for residence life Yashvin Madhak.
Five days after the parties, the men’s soccer players found out they were in trouble. While the team was practicing at the College Creek field on Aug. 8, director of athletics Dan Collen walked up to head coach Christian Johnson and told him about the allegations. According to Swartz, Collen told the players, “You guys have to get changed real quick and I need to talk to you.”
The team had to stop practice and go to the student affairs office in Nelson Hall, where they were interviewed one-on-one with either Aguirre, Darnall Burke, Jones, Capaccio, or O’Rourke-Andrews. Swartz was the last to be questioned and had to wait for three hours.
Darquea, Swartz, Zogg and Powell said the investigation process was not fair — sometimes using information that had nothing to do with the rookie party.
The day after the parties, some of the soccer players on the men’s team went to Willow Creek for a day at the river. At Kimtu Beach, one of the players was fishing and got a hook caught in his eyelid and they drove back to Arcata to go to the hospital. According to Zogg, the administration knew of the fishing incident and discussed it in the interview process. “I don’t know if they used it for sure, but I feel like they did not understand that the hospital had nothing to do with the party the night before,” he said. “It kept being brought up in the investigation.”
“It did get confused in there,” Blake said. “It was bad timing and for a while, it was a part of the mixture. But in the end, it all got sorted out.”
Richmond cannot recall news of the fishing trip and he and Blake deny that it had any part in the decision to suspend the team.
“I highly doubt that the fishing incident had no part in their decision,” Powell said.
Six days after the party, the 33 members of the men’s soccer team received an email from Aguirre with initial charges. Each soccer player had to schedule an individual disciplinary conference with Aguirre in the next week.
On the first day of the fall semester, members of the women’s team found out they were in trouble too. Collen and associate director of athletics Tom Trepiak came to the College Creek field during the team’s practice to inform coach Johnson that the women had hazing allegations against them. Like the men’s team, they had to go to Nelson Hall for one-on-one questioning. For each woman, the individual interviews were done by either Aguirre, Jones, Meints, Pearson or Madhak. A few days later, members of the women’s team received an email with their initial charges. They were asked to schedule their disciplinary conference with Aguirre.
On the same day the women’s investigation began, Richmond wrote the decision on the men’s team.
The second day of the fall semester, the men’s season was cancelled. Richmond emailed a memo to the campus community with his decision. “We have concluded that a hazing incident did indeed occur… I have decided to suspend the team’s 2012-13 season effective immediately. The team will not participate in any California Collegiate Athletic Association games or any University-sanctioned games for the entire academic year,” his memo read. “Given my understanding of what occurred with the men’s team, I am immensely relieved that all of the students involved are safe. I hope that the team discipline, along with individual disciplinary actions, send a clear message that this was unacceptable. Hazing is not tolerated at Humboldt State, not in Athletics and not in any other area,” the memo continued.
When Swartz found out he would not be playing soccer games this season, he cried. “It was the reason I came to school here and now it’s taken away,” he said. “It’s pretty heartbreaking.”
The campus community got word of the decision before the soccer players did. On Aug. 21, Richmond sent out the memo at 12:30 p.m. But the men’s team learned of their fate when Collen and Trepiak came to tell them at their practice after 1 p.m. “None of us had our phones to check our email because we were on the soccer field. When we were told the season got cancelled, we went back into the locker room to cool down and I saw my phone and I had a bunch of text messages from friends saying how sorry they were,” Zogg said. “It’s like everyone knew before us.”
Darquea had class during the time Collen informed the team of the decision and he found out the season was canceled through reading his email. “I was greatly disappointed and upset,” he said. “It’s a complete disrespect to us.”
Collen said the punishment is appropriate, but regretted having to tell them the season was cancelled. “It was a sad day for all of us,” Collen said.
According to Powell, Trepiak was tearful about the lost season. “I believed in the process and it did not work the way it should,” Trepiak told them.
In the end, every member of the men’s team who attended the initiation party was charged with hazing or conspiracy to haze under Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations, according to Darquea, Swartz, Zogg and Powell.
Zogg questions why the whole team was charged with hazing, even the rookies. “How come the ones who got hazed got charged with hazing?” he said.
The university sent each player a settlement agreement after Richmond emailed his memo. According to Blake, if they did not sign it, they would have a formal hearing. “Students were informed of the range of possible sanctions available, including no sanction to expulsion from the CSU system. There are many other possible sanctions available, and sanctions are always determined based upon the severity of the violation of the code of conduct. No student was told that they would be expelled if they did not sign the agreement,” she said.
Swartz’s settlement reads, “Without admitting that Austin Swartz engaged in the conduct described in the University’s charges, Austin Swartz waives the right to contest the University’s charges… As discussed during our meeting, you have been placed on disciplinary probation through May 17, 2013. This action is based on your violation(s) of section 41301 of Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations. You understand any further violation of the student code of conduct may result in your suspension from HSU and the CSU system.”
The settlement agreement states that each player is sanctioned to 30 hours of community service to be complete by the end of the school year. The team’s community service involves educating local high schools about hazing.
The settlement agreement ends with declaring, “The University agrees to take no further disciplinary action with respect to the conduct described in University’s charge dated August 21, 2012, assuming compliance with the terms of this Agreement.”
Swartz said all the settlement agreements for the 33 members who were investigated are exactly the same.
Blake said the administration had enough evidence to charge the players with hazing. “I know the students didn’t believe that, but some of the teammates did come forward with information,” Blake said. “They were scared, and we heard from more than one.”
Blake said she was told some players vomited during the men’s party; therefore, she concluded they had alcohol poisoning. “No one was hospitalized, but we believe, without any doubt, that some of them were suffering from alcohol poisoning and were in serious jeopardy,” Blake said of the men’s party.
“We don’t even know where that came from. No one was in real jeopardy. We made sure they got home, that they were taken care of,” Darquea said.
According to Swartz, no one at their party blacked out that he knew of. “Yeah, some people vomited. But no one was really stumbling,” he said.
Swartz did not drink during the party, so he could help take care of his drunk team members. “I feel like I was being punished, even though I did the right thing,” he said.
Zogg said he did not drink either. “I’m not 21 and I didn’t even drink, but they still charged me with underage drinking,” he said of his initial charges from the first email.
Parents and players plead to keep the soccer seasons, according to Blake. At the same time, the chancellor’s office, alumni and other CSU campuses pressured HSU to expel the players from school.
“Those were some of the hardest weeks of my life. I had so much pressure from both sides,” Blake said.
“No one was out to get anybody. We made the best decision based on our findings,” Blake said. “A different president might have made a difference decision.”
Trepiak said the administration did not educate the students about hazing before this all happened. “We failed the athletes,” he said.
Swartz remembers a team meeting they had last year to fill out paperwork. “There was a slideshow, and one slide said: hazing is wrong,” he said. “But we didn’t know the definition.”
Blake said students are still held responsible for hazing, whether they know what it is or not. “I think it’s true that they didn’t know their actions were considered hazing, but it is also my understanding that every year, each student has to sign a student athlete code of conduct. My suspicion is that none of them had ever really read it,” she said. “It truly doesn’t matter whether they felt it or not. Hazing is hazing.”
Richmond said the soccer player’s prior understanding of hazing does not matter. “We often forget that there is a psychological component to it as well as the physical. Hazing is degrading behavior. Just because you weren’t informed, well that’s something that I think most people recognize as part of our ethical system that you don’t degrade other people — I don’t think a socially responsible individual would do that,” he said. “But I know human beings aren’t perfect.”
Richmond said he punished the soccer teams because of what might have happened. “What concerns me is how difficult it would be to call up a parent and say that I’m really sorry we didn’t do our job of policing our athletes, but your student is dead.”
During the investigation, Richmond met with vice president of student affairs Blake and director of athletics Collen to make his decision on the fate of the teams. The three met with all 60 players from the men and women’s team on Aug. 24 to answer questions the students had. Neither Richmond or Blake ever met individually with a soccer player.
The meeting happened after the men lost their season and before the women’s decision was made. “At the meeting, they made the girls feel like they had the same fate as us, after they took away everything from our team,” Powell said.
On Aug. 29, Richmond sent an email to explain the women’s ban from three games. “There were important differences between the two incidents, including the severity of offenses, and the amount of physical and psychological danger created. Our policies provide for discretion in determining sanctions related to conduct violations, and I am confident that the actions we have taken are appropriate to each of these situations,” the memo read.
Each woman was charged differently. James’ settlement agreement included hazing and providing alcohol to minors. “Some were charged with hazing and some were not,” she said.
Some soccer players said the two decisions were not thoroughly investigated. “They jumped to conclusions and there wasn’t enough interviewing,” James said.
“They didn’t even meet with us until after the decision,” Darquea said of Richmond and Blake. “That was unprofessional,” he said.
Blake said the investigation process was rushed because the administration had to make a decision before both team’s first games scheduled for Aug. 30. “We were up against matches, so with the women’s team in particular, the coach and athletic director asked us to get through it as fast as we could so they could know if they were playing in the first match,” she said. “Everybody involved wanted to have it out of the way, so we were just trying to get it done.”
Some of the players said the decision to cancel the men’s season but not the women’s was hypocritical. “I guess the fact of the matter was, we did haze. But then if we did and it was true, why didn’t we get our season taken away too?” James said.
“The administration says we have a zero tolerance policy for hazing. So then wouldn’t the women lose a season too?” Darquea said.
Richmond decided that what the women’s soccer team did was less degrading than what the men did. “It was still hazing, but it was a reduced effort,” Richmond said.
“I don’t understand it. It’s hazing, if it’s hazing,” Swartz said. “Yet the girls got a three-game suspension. It’s like they were trying to die down the situation. Giving the girls their season is a poor attempt to try and patch things up. They made our decision and then realized they can’t do that again. The girls had boosters who threatened to not give money if they lost their season.”
Richmond said financial support did not influence his decision. “It’s certainly conceivable, but that was not a consideration of mine,” he said.
At least five of the soccer players — Darquea, Swartz, Zogg, Powell and James — said their initiation parties pale in comparison to other acts of hazing they think exist at HSU.
James said that on the women’s soccer team, the rookie parties years ago were harsh. “We actually have changed how we treat our freshman. In the past, before I came, they would be like ‘no you have to drink.’ They were pretty brutal,” she said. “But for us, it’s just for fun. If you don’t drink, who cares?”
For the men’s party, Swartz said it was not mandatory for the rookies to drink or participate. “We told them that it was supposed to be fun and if they didn’t want to do it, that’s fine,” he said. “It was a tame night, compared to other parties I’ve been to.”
As for next year, there just might not be a rookie party. “We probably won’t do it anymore. Now they have put us on edge about it,” Swartz said. “It isn’t worth it.”
Zogg said the team’s actions did not warrant the discipline. “The amount of common sense in the administration is miniscule,” he said.
Blake said the decision was important. “Maybe 10 years from now, I’ll run into some of these students and we’ll be able to have a good conversation. I hope someday they will understand, this really is all about them. It’s about safety and health, and making good decisions,” she said.
The loss of the men’s season and the cancellation of the women’s first three games has an effect on the players and the soccer program.
On Sept. 14, the women played their first game after the three-game suspension. Some members of the men’s team sat on the sidelines to watch.
The women wore a black band around their socks that read, “Family,” which they wore at every game this season.
“It was good, but we were so overly excited to play a game and so we just played too excited. It wasn’t as clean,” James said. “We were also pissed off. We had so many fouls that first game. It was all out of anger.” They lost the home game against Cal Poly Pomona 0-2.
In 14 games this season, the women’s team only won one. It was against Chico State on Sept. 23. James said her team was never the same after losing two weeks of practice during the investigation and then being cancelled from three games. “It’s shown in our season. We’re not where we were before,” she said.
The women’s team cannot qualify for the California Collegiate Athletic Association conference tournament this year because it’s first three games are considered forfeits. “Now it’s like we’re playing for nothing,” James said.
The men did not get to play a game this season, but they still practiced as a team three days a week during the semester. At practice, they scrimmaged against each other. “This can go one of two ways. We can bounce back and have a good season next year, using this as motivation,” Darquea said. “Or it can hinder us because we haven’t played in a year.”
Zogg said the team’s intensity and level of play had been improving each season. “Now we just hit a wall. Can we push through it? We have to wait and see,” he said. “We could have done great things this year.”
Team captain Darquea said the lost season will hurt the rookies because they do not get any game experience. “The only thing that kept me sane and happy during my freshman year was playing soccer,” he said. “Now nine new players still have a whole four seasons to play.”
Coach Johnson said he will only be looking for standout talent that can make immediate impact because he expects the entire team to return at this point.
Seniors Daquea, Swartz and Powell on the men’s team will not be graduating in May. Darquea is prolonging graduation to play one more season with his team. Swartz and Powell now need to stay at HSU for two extra soccer seasons.
“I don’t want to be here anymore, after the way we were treated with disrespect, but I’m staying for my team, coach and for myself to finish out my soccer career,” Darquea said. “I don’t want my last year to end like this.”
Johnson said that the two team captains, Darquea and Zach Hammond, have the potential to play at the next level and that he has some good connections with professional teams.
Blake does not think the lost soccer season will affect the players’ athletics. “I doubt very many of them are going on to a pro-career,” she said.
“They don’t know us personally,” Zogg said of the administration. “Yet their whole mentality is that they’re better than us.”
Some of the soccer players feel the administration made an example out of them. Swartz said that initiation might be wrong, but that it is everywhere. “They said they didn’t want to make an example out of us, but that’s exactly what they did. They lied to us,” he said. “They were preparing to have the season cancelled — I can feel it. They don’t know how hard we work. They’re so disconnected.”
Blake confirmed that the decision is now being used as an example at other CSU campuses and beyond. “I certainly know that people across the country are now using it as an example for other teams and groups, but that was not the intent,” she said.
“I get that they don’t want to be an example. It’s a hard lesson, and sometimes our lessons are played out in public and that makes it more difficult,” Blake said. “They can be angry for as long as they need to be.”
Darquea said what the administration knows is only hearsay. “They weren’t there,” he said. “This affects 34 people’s lives,” Darquea said of his team.
“We’re not the only sport on campus that does partying and initiation. They’re just using us as an example,” Darquea said.
Darquea, Swartz, Zogg and Powell said the administration has labeled their soccer team as athletes who haze, which causes the HSU community to judge them.
According to Darquea, a logic teacher used their situation in the classroom to make fun of them. “They were making one of those truth table things and wrote, ‘We are not the Humboldt State soccer team, so we don’t haze.’”
Powell said he has felt harassed even outside of campus. “A few days after the decision was announced, I was with my parents at Costco and I was wearing a Humboldt Soccer sweatshirt,” he said. “A protein-shake sample lady looked at me and said ‘I’m sorry that happened to you, but I agree with the president and I agree you guys did something wrong.’”
“I feel like some people now look at us negatively. I don’t want to play into that further by being hostile back, so I just said said “there are two sides to every story, ma’am.’”
“I still sport my Humboldt State soccer gear. I’m proud to be on this team and I don’t care what people think of me. I’ve made some mistakes in my life, but people should still respect me. I feel like I’m getting hazed by the entire campus and the community based on hearsay.”