Chris Davis, the principal of North Sand Mountain High School, has just spent the longest two weeks of his life. After reports that alleged “tea-bagging” had happened at his school, he launched an intensive investigation where he talked at length, and in intimate detail, with every person involved and today he firmly believes a “tea-bagging” incident never occurred at his school. “There was no type of sexual abuse because if that had happened, somebody would be in jail. I promise you.”
But what did happen was almost as bad. A television station in Huntsville, Ala., first reported the allegations included sexual abuse and, when I heard a ninth-grader had been exploited by some older football players, I lashed out as strongly as I could. I believe hazing and bullying must be eradicated in today’s society and I feel even stronger about sexual abuse, particularly involving a minor. As a result, North Sand Mountain High has been cruelly smeared in the public’s eye.
My chief source was the TV report but it was heightened by several parents who have students at North Sand Mountain who told me the vile report was true. “Tea-bagging” is the term used when a bully rubs his genitals in the face of a victim. Since my rage was written, I have received five different email versions of what actually occurred, been rudely castigated by the Jackson County Schools superintendent and have tried to contact the school principal to get the “official” version.
Chris Davis cannot tell me what happened – there is a very necessary shroud of privacy involving minors that I appreciate – but in a 45-minute conversation Friday, I am assured of two things: The right steps were immediately taken and North Sand Mountain Middle and High School is very much a place I would be proud to send my child.
Chris doesn’t dispute for a minute that an “incident” of some type did occur. He also said that what started as locker-room horseplay “got out of hand” and that it was quelled immediately. He said he and football coach Adam Gilbert quickly took steps to correct it, punished those who were involved within the school guidelines and now grieve with the entire community over the “black eye” the still-proud high school now must wear over the foolish incident until the public’s outrage dwindles away.
“I guess the silver lining here is that every student in our school knows that hazing or bullying will not be tolerated. It is totally unacceptable,” Davis said. “I know that those who were involved are good kids – there was never any sexual contact by anyone – but there is a much greater awareness by all our students that nobody should ever mistreat another person in any manner or any form.”
Davis is still feeling the sting of an amazing amount of misinformation. At one point he told me that one of my sources was a friend who I haven’t seen or talked to in years. “That’s exactly what I am talking about,” he said when I firmly refuted his claim. “We have heard everything you can think of! I appreciate you telling me that wasn’t true but need you to know what you wrote as fact wasn’t all true, either.”
Wow, what a mess. My email has bulged with the purported names of the minors who were involved, claims that much worse has happened, angry letters that blame others, an alleged cover-up, favoritism of athletes, that my story was politically motivated (the school superintendent is running for office) and – of course -- all manner of accolades and insults as Sand Mountain residents took different sides. Some wondered why I attacked North Sand Mountain when hazing goes on everywhere.
If that has been my response, you can only imagine what has taken place at North Sand Mountain High. “Everybody is sorry that anything happened. In truth, there was an incident involving some of our students but I am also telling the truth when I say there was no sexual abuse of any kind. You’ve been in football locker rooms and you know how high school boys act and what they talk about. I am not that naive but nothing criminal happened,” Davis said.
“We regret the incident that did happen. Our whole school does. I look at every child here as a student and I can tell you every student – girls and boys and our entire faculty – will strive to make sure nothing like this happens again but, please believe me, if I could tell you what really happened you would have the same opinion we do – it was horseplay that got out of hand,” he said.
So where do we go from here? “The truth is out there. Those involved know the truth, the parents and guardians of those involved know the truth and our administration knows the truth. We feel it’s important to know the truth whenever anything bad happens,” Davis said. “So I guess we need to look at our football team and the way the players have responded. They’ve put this incident behind them. The kids involved are all still members of our team and no one has been ostracized or further mistreated in any way. These are great kids with bright futures.”
“So I guess I would just like people to know we have a great high school and are having a banner year. There is too much good and positive happening to let one incident slow us down. It happened, it has been dealt with, and we will all move forward together,” Davis told me, adding, “That’s not just the plan, that’s what we are doing -- together -- right now.”