In the last week, there have been at least two instances of Great Bend High School boys’ swim team members allegedly being sexually battered on bus trips home from swim meets, parents of team members are reporting.
The most recent case is said to have occurred this past Saturday as the team was coming back from Manhattan. The second is said to have occurred Feb. 3 on the ride back from Salina.
The incidents have sparked outrage among parents and other relatives of the alleged victims. They believe the matter was at best bungled by Unified School District 428 officials and at worst covered up to protect alleged perpetrators who are bound for the state swim meet this coming Saturday.
Great Bend attorney Brock McPherson represents the parents of both alleged victims. “The school has not handled this well,” he said.
There was a meeting Monday between a parent of a victim, GBHS Principal Tim Friess and Activities Director David Meter. The mother said she was told the matter was closed.
There are four team members allegedly involved in committing the batteries. Reports indicate that two of the four (who were not headed to state) received a five-day suspension from school and were kicked off the team. However, the other two (who are going to state) were not punished.
The names of those involved are not being released because all are juveniles.
As of press time Thursday, there was no comment from USD 428 except a brief statement from Superintendent Brad Reed Wednesday. It read “as with any incident involving student privacy issues, the district has no comment.”
The district was pressed for a news release, but declined to issue one.
“It’s sad,” an alleged victim’s mother said. “This is a pretty serious offense. There’s no way for us to protect our kids.”
“They seem more concerned with their ranking in swim meet than they are with the kids,” McPherson said of school officials. He is thoroughly convinced the parents have a cause for criminal and probably damage cases.
According to information pooled from family members of the Saturday victim and McPherson, several boys on the bus threw the bags of two swimmers to the back of the bus. When the victim went to retrieve his, he was pushed to the floor and his pants were pulled down.
He was then allegedly battered. He screamed, but was hit and kicked by those assaulting him.
His cries were drowned out by the noise made by other team members, several of whom tried to come to his aid only to be hit by the alleged perpetrators.
The bus driver told the boys to settle down, not knowing what was happening. Coach Steve Beaumont eventually went to the back of the bus and stopped what was going on, bringing the victim to the front for the remainder of the trip.
This happened in Ellsworth County. Authorities were called and the bus stopped in Ellsworth where statements were taken by the Ellsworth County Sheriff’s Office.
Ellsworth County Sheriff Tracy Ploutz said the initial call about the incident went to Great Bend, but was transferred to Ellsworth County when they learned where the bus was.
Ploutz said they are interviewing people now. “The investigation is on-going. It is in the preliminary stages.”
The sheriff called the situation a hazing that got out of control. They are now looking at possible criminal charges, but that will be determined by Ellsworth County Attorney Joe Shepack when matter is referred to him.
When the bus returned to Great Bend, the victim’s mother was called who made a report to local authorities as well. The students involved in the incident were sent home.
Reports indicate that GBHS teachers were not informed of what took place, nor were other parents.
The victim’s mother said her son was embarrassed and scared, and stayed home from school until Thursday. She said he is also receiving counseling.
The mother said swim practice this week has gotten rather heated. Several of the other swimmers are equally upset about what happened and said they won’t swim with those involved, even if it meant not going to state.
“How in the hell would you feel if this was one of your kids?” said the alleged victim’s grandfather. “This school is out of control.”
“The school is full of rumors,” McPherson said. “Now this is getting around town.”
He said there were two coaches and a student manager on the bus for a total of 25 passengers Saturday.
This wasn’t the first case, McPherson said. After the Saturday incident came to light, a boy who said he was sexually battered that Wednesday came forward. He had not even told his father about what had happened until then.
McPherson said he also is seeking the names of the bus drivers. He also wants to find out if there were video cameras on the buses, and if so, he wants to see the recordings.
In addition, he wants to contact members of the USD 428 School Board.