Conestoga High School head football coach John Vogan has resigned from his position in the wake of charges against three of his players for hazing and assaulting a 14-year-old freshman teammate, according to a letter sent to parents Thursday from officials in the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District.
Vogan, who also served as Conestoga’s head baseball coach, had been serving a suspension while authorities investigated the incident. Among the charges against the three juveniles — all 17 years old — are assault, conspiracy, terroristic threats, and unlawful restraint.
According to prosecutors, the incident occurred Oct. 15, when the 14-year-old was held down by three 17-year-old players, who penetrated him with the handle of a broomstick. This was part of a Conestoga football ritual known as “No Gay Thursday,” according to Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan.
Conestoga competes in the Central League with mostly Delaware County member schools. Some Delco football coaches reacting to the news Thursday characterized hazing and bullying in locker rooms as an ongoing major concern for those in their profession. All coaches interviewed agreed it’s important to encourage more dialogue with their players and staff, and to re-emphasize in-house policies.
“It’s a serious issue,” Cardinal O’Hara coach B.J. Hogan said. “Fifteen or 20 years ago, it might have been different. Not saying it was right back then, either. It’s always wrong.
“My first team meeting I ever had with the kids, I talked about hazing. Just last year there was an incident up in North Jersey where they cancelled the season … and that’s how I really police it. You just have to tell the kids, ‘Hey guys, it’s a serious issue, this is what can happen.’”
The key, said one coach, is to establish a “culture of expectations” prior to every season, to drive home the point that hazing/bullying will not be tolerated. However, some coaches may believe an incident similar to what occurred at Conestoga could never transpire inside their program.
“I think there’s a lot of ignorance,” one Central League coach who requested anonymity said. “A lot of people can’t even fathom that this sort of thing would happen. It has nothing to do with anyone allowing this stuff to happen, it’s just that they are completely oblivious to it. That’s a problem.
“We’ve had entire meetings just on how you should treat the underclassmen with respect because we want to make sure the underclassmen are treated the exact same way as the seniors on the team. We say during those meetings that we won’t tolerate hazing of any kind whatsoever.”
Academy Park coach Jason Vosheski has his office in the team’s locker room. The situation at Conestoga occurred when no coach was present.
“If you’re there as a coach in the locker room, it’s impossible not to know. But at the same time, if it happens anywhere else (at school), I can see people not knowing,” Vosheski said. “Some of it depends on the program itself, and it depends on both the coaches and the kids. Some places you don’t have to say anything about it because it’s more of a family-oriented environment; there’s expectations on how to act. In some places, though, it has to be stressed constantly.”
Vosheski said that it’s a good idea for high school coaches to discuss hazing throughout the offseason and leading up to the 2016 campaign, to remind his players of the repercussions.
“A lot of times kids may not see the consequences, they may not see the big picture of their actions,” he said. “In most cases, I think a lot of teams will need to be reminded of it.”
Hogan said his players are not permitted to be in the locker room or weight room without a coach nearby.
“There’s always supervision,” Hogan said. “You can’t be there every second, obviously, but I make sure I’m always around, and if I hear a lot of noise in there I can just pop my head in to see what’s going on. We, as coaches, are always responsible.”