Duke Scandal Hits Home

"I sympathize for the team. They've been scrutinized so hard and no one knows what has happened yet," says Landon co-captain George Huguely. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
By Liam Dillon
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, April 1, 2006

George Huguely and Conor Cassidy both looked away yesterday when asked about a story that has been tough for them deal with, but impossible to ignore. Following Landon's victory at St. Albans in boys' lacrosse, the thoughts of two senior Bears captains returned to an incident that occurred more than 250 miles away, but looms large at Landon.

Allegations of sexual assault and racist behavior facing Duke University's varsity lacrosse team has set off a firestorm of protest and counter-protests on Duke's campus in Durham, N.C., and in the surrounding community. Forty-six of the 47 Duke players have taken DNA tests to comply with an investigation of a March 13 off-campus party where a black woman, hired as a stripper, claimed white lacrosse players locked her in a bathroom, shouted racial epithets and raped her. (The team's lone black player was not tested because the woman said that white players committed the assault.) The university has suspended the program until it learns more about what happened.

Of the 46 players on Duke's roster, nine are from the Washington area, including five from Landon, located in Bethesda.

"Of course it affects us," Cassidy said. "I've played with a couple of kids down there now. There are some people around who have siblings on Duke's team. It's an unfortunate situation. It's hard to believe that all this is going on."

Players, coaches and parents in the Landon community say the situation -- especially with facts slow to emerge -- has made for a state of uncomfortable uncertainty. They've been closely reading newspaper articles, watching television reports and scanning the Internet for information. But players also said they've been trying to keep the story out of their minds so as not to be overwhelmed by it.

Some expressed surprise at how quickly the players have been judged.

"I sympathize for the team," Huguely said. "They've been scrutinized so hard and no one knows what has happened yet. In this country, you're supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. I think that's the way it should be."

In his 36 years as coach at Landon, Rob Bordley cannot recall a lacrosse story that has received this much national news coverage. He's hated the way that Landon's name has been dragged into the case, and is adamant that his former players at Duke had no involvement in the serious accusations against the team.

"Knowing the kids I have down there, I have no doubt that they didn't do anything," Bordley said on Thursday night, noting that he hasn't talked with any of his former players but has spoken with parents. "It doesn't mean they won't have a beer, but I know there's no way anything else of what's being said about them is true. I'd bet my life on these kids."

Although Bordley said he constantly cautions the team about the dangers of alcohol in the wake of the incident -- the Duke players have admitted underage drinking occurred at the party -- such warnings have taken on new relevance. Huguely's father, George, Sr. said yesterday that he's had discussions with his son, who will play at University of Virginia next season, about staying out of situations that could be costly.

"Regardless of what winds up happening, you have to learn from this experience and take what you can from it," George Huguely Sr. said. "You always have to remember and can't let yourself be in a situation where something like this could happen."

Meantime, Duke President Richard Broadhead sent an e-mail to about 80,000 alumni and the parents of 6,200 students, saying the school is proceeding in an "honest and forthright way."

"It's understandable to feel badly when terrible things may have happened at a place you love, and I've heard from many of you who have expressed sadness, anger, outrage, and frustration about the lacrosse situation," Broadhead wrote in the e-mail.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company