LAS VEGAS, N.M. – It was shocking enough when six high school football players were accused of sodomizing six younger teammates with a broomstick during training camp. But the scandal was raised to a whole new level when the coaches were accused of turning a blind eye to the hazing.
Since then, Robertson High's head football coach and all five assistants have resigned, and prosecutors are considering charges against adults and youngsters alike.
The incident has turned student against student in the town of 14,000, and subjected some of the school's athletes to lewd taunts from spectators.
"I'm very sad, so very sad for these young men," said Veronica Sanchez, a retiree who knows one of the victims and one of the accused. Her friends and family, she said, are split "kind of 50-50" on whether to blame the coaching staff or the older players.
The scandal unfolded at a four-day, mid-August preseason training camp in the mountains west of Las Vegas, a predominantly Hispanic, once-booming Old West town 60 miles from Santa Fe, now known for its stately Victorian homes.
According to state police reports, a group of juniors assaulted several younger teammates over two days, holding the victims down while a broomstick was forced into their rectums over their athletic shorts.
Police did not find out about it from school officials; instead, a state police officer whose son is on the team learned of the allegations through his wife, a camp volunteer.
The alleged ringleader was expelled from school. The others — some of them veteran members of the highly successful team — were suspended through the end of the school year. The six victims returned to the team.
Several residents declined to give their names but expressed disbelief, frustration and embarrassment over the case, along with anger — some directed at the coaches, some at the media inquiring about the scandal.
On the field, the Cardinals — who played in the state championship game in each of the past three years, winning the title in 2005 and 2006 — have struggled, losing their first three contests by lopsided scores of 51-7, 34-6 and 35-13.
"These are young kids in a difficult, difficult environment," said Bob Rothstein, an attorney for several victims' families. "They have to go to school every day and they're still trying to play football on the team. They certainly didn't want to be exposed in this way."
School Superintendent Rick Romero said spectators at some opposing schools have taunted the Robertson girls' soccer team and a middle school girls' volleyball team with "references to broomsticks and other very inappropriate sexual innuendoes."
A school district investigation released earlier this month accused the coaching staff of not adequately supervising the players and failing to look into the initial reports of hazing. District Attorney Henry Valdez in Santa Fe said coaches and school administrators could face charges of failing to report child sexual abuse.
According to a state police report, an assistant coach told the other coaches during training camp "that some sort of hazing incident involving broomsticks was happening." Another coach walked into a cabin to see "a player on his stomach on the ground, with his legs spread open," while a teammate held a broomstick, the police report said. The coach told the players to "cut it out" and the group broke up.
Romero said the coaches believed they had intervened in time to stop a hazing incident. But "as our investigation has unfolded, we learned that it had already happened," the superintendent said.
That afternoon, according to the police report, head coach Ray Woods called the players together and told them that if any hazing was going on, it needed to stop.
When Woods asked if anyone had been violated, one 15-year-old player raised his hand. But before the boy could elaborate, other players began making jokes, the report said. Several coaches told investigators that because of the laughter from the players, they didn't believe the allegations were serious and took no further action.
On Day 4 of what was supposed to be a five-day camp, Woods was approached by concerned parents. He gathered the boys again, insisting they identify those involved. Woods immediately kicked several players off the team, training camp was cut short, and the squad was put on a bus and taken back to the school.
There they were met by a group of parents, four state police cars and at least eight uniformed officers, plus Capt. Toby Dolan, who had learned of the allegations through his wife.
In an interview, Romero said school officials did not immediately notify authorities because they were not sure exactly what had happened.
"We were doing things based on the best information we had," he said. "At that time, neither I nor the athletic director, nor, I believe, the head coach knew the degree of the severity of the actions."
Romero said lessons about bullying — already a regular part of the elementary school curriculum — are planned with students at all grades. High school students will also learn about sexual harassment.
"This was a very violent, very serious form of bullying," the superintendent said. "Until we do a better job of identifying and dealing with it, this is not going to be the last time we hear about it."