Five Thomas Stone High School Wrestlers Charged With Misdemeanor Hazing

By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Five Thomas Stone varsity wrestlers have been charged by the Charles County Sheriff's Office with misdemeanor hazing for their involvement in an incident on the team bus last month. All five have been suspended from school indefinitely, and first-year coach Michael Larson has been removed from his position for at least the remainder of the season.

While returning from a match at Great Mills on Jan. 20, several wrestlers taped the arms and legs of a teammate to a bus seat, then took pictures and teased him, said senior Zachary Lohr, one of the suspended wrestlers.

The coach became aware of the activity in the back of the bus when the driver turned on the overhead light, Lohr said.

Larson, who did not return calls seeking comment, immediately demanded that the victim be untaped and warned the rest of the team that punishments would follow.

"We take hazing very seriously," Charles County Public Schools spokeswoman Katie O'Malley-Simpson said. "Hazing falls under what we consider harassment, bullying . . . or anything that humiliates, teases, injures or potentially injures another student."

The wrestlers have been suspended from school indefinitely since Jan. 23, the same day they were charged as juveniles by the Charles County Sheriff's Office. Charles County Public Schools Superintendent James E. Richmond is expected to decide by tomorrow if the students will be allowed to return to school.

"We were just joking around," Lohr said. "We weren't trying to hurt him. Every sport I've played in high school, something like this has happened. It happened to me and another kid on the wrestling team last year."

In addition, three wrestlers who spoke to the police about their involvement in the incident have also been removed from the team, according to O'Malley-Simpson, who declined to name any of the students involved.

Junior varsity coach Jason Schmitt has taken over the team for the remainder of the season.

Both Thomas Stone Athletic Director Steve Lee and Principal L.C. Martin declined to comment and referred all questions about the matter to O'Malley-Simpson.

School officials began investigating the incident the following day and informed five students that evening that they were being kicked off the team, but upon further examination saw fit to suspend three additional wrestlers for their involvement.

Hazing is a misdemeanor crime in Maryland and is punishable by up to six months in prison, a maximum $500 fine or both. Eight students were interviewed by the Charles County Sheriff's Office, spokeswoman Diane Richardson office.

Lohr was the most successful wrestler for Thomas Stone (2-17 overall, 0-10 Southern Maryland Athletic Conference). A 160-pounder, he had a 26-0 record and had attracted the attention of college coaches prior to the suspension.

"He knows he lost a significant opportunity. Unfortunately, it's remorse after the fact," said Bob Lohr, Zachary's father. "I love my son but my son made a terrible decision. There were plenty of opportunities where he could have walked away or stopped the situation."

Bob Lohr attended the match and met with the victim and his parents to apologize.

"My first concern was the safety of this young man," Bob Lohr said. "I told [the family] when the time is right, Zachary and I would like to meet and formally apologize for what happened."

Thomas Stone lost 83-0 yesterday to visiting Westlake, the largest margin of defeat in program history. The Cougars have one match left. Only six of their wrestlers took the mat, and junior 140-pounder Dominic Pontorno was the only one to not lose by a fall.

"The biggest challenge is morale," Schmitt said. "You've got to keep these kids up and most of them just want to give up on the season. I'm trying to tell them that the only time they really lose is when they quit and hopefully they don't quit. What happened was unfortunate, you just hope they would make better decisions."

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