VENTURA COUNTY DEPUTIES LAUNCH INQUIRY OF WESTLAKE HIGH HAZING.
The Ventura County Sheriff's Department has opened an investigation into hazing on the Westlake High wrestling team to determine whether alleged incidents were criminal, officials said Thursday.
School officials, who also are investigating, canceled the wrestling season Tuesday after learning about the allegations. A school board member said the inquiry could lead to expulsions.
Ventura County sheriff's Cmdr. Kathy Kemp said investigators started looking into possible hazing at the school Thursday after suspension of the wrestling program for ``gross misconduct'' was reported in the Daily News.
Kemp declined to detail the allegations.
``We're not certain at this point whether we have an administrative issue or a criminal issue,'' Kemp said. ``We may do some interviews ourselves to determine if there have been any criminal (acts).''
Parents held a meeting Thursday night at the Westlake home of the wrestling booster club president, Wendy Margolis, who said that her son, Dan, was devastated by the decision to cancel the season.
Wendy Margolis said Athletic Director Joseph Pawlick was originally scheduled to attend but canceled Thursday afternoon.
About 25 parents went ahead with the meeting that included coach Scott Little to discuss whether there are options that would allow boys cleared of misconduct to continue to compete in the sport.
The parents issued a statement that said:
``We the parents of the Westlake High School wrestling team have not been informed of any allegation in writing or otherwise from school officials. We demand that the investigation be continued based on fact, not rumors. If the investigation reveals that there is any wrongdoing, appropriate action should be taken against this individual or individuals, not the entire team. We demand that the wrestling program be reinstated.''
Parents complained they were being kept in the dark.
``Why don't we know?'' asked Alan Sturm, parent of team member James Galvan. ``They are implicating kids.''
Dan McClain, who has two sons, Sean and Nick, on the team, said: ``From what I can gather it's been nothing more than horseplay. This is a bunch of bunk.''
Varsity wrestler Dan Margolis, a junior, said he had been in the athletic director's office an hour or two every day this week for meetings, missing classes, and he still didn't know if the allegations were true or false.
``I'd like to see it solved,'' he said. ``This is something that should not be happening, especially at a high school.''
Little said he was aware of the allegations, but would not confirm or deny them. ``I'm really hurt and sad. This is unfortunate for the kids,'' he said.
Pawlick and Westlake High Principal Curt Luft did not return phone calls Thursday.
Kemp said an investigator will check the school's administrative review of the allegations, and the Sheriff's Department may have additional questions. She said the investigation could last from one day to several weeks.
``A lot of the issues are going to depend on the statements of the kids,'' Kemp said. ``If they're not cooperative it could be something that goes on through the holidays.''
On Wednesday, a Conejo Valley Unified School District official said the majority of the Westlake wrestling squad was involved in ``gross team misconduct'' against fellow students.
Chuck Ekland, director of secondary education for the district, said the school hasn't suspended or expelled any students yet, but is continuing its investigation.
Ekland said the school contacted the Sheriff's Department on Thursday afternoon.
School board member Elaine McKern said district officials called her Thursday morning to brief her on the investigation, but told her few specifics about the allegations.
``Yes, something happened,'' McKern said. ``We have sketchy ideas, but we don't have any cPonfessions. That's all I know.''
McKern said the expulsion process is a lengthy one but that several students might eventually be expelled.
``It's really too bad that some team members like this can bring the whole team down,'' she said. ``It's like one bad potato and we're going to have to throw out the whole stew.''
Some parents are furious that every wrestler has been affected.
``This thing has everybody upset, and I hope the newspapers stay on top of it,'' said Bill Hutton, whose son, Doug, was a top wrestler on the team.
``I've been receiving phone calls all day about it. Those wrestlers not involved should be exonerated. Sports were a big part of Doug's life even though he has a 3.6 grade-point average.''
Westlake wrestlers cannot transfer to another program this season, according to Dean Crowley, commissioner of the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section, which oversees most high school sports programs in the Southland.
``Athletic transfers are ineligible,'' said Crowley, who received a letter from the school saying that the team's season was being canceled.
``You can't be a student at Westlake and wrestle somewhere else,'' Crowley said. ``You can't do both. As far as I can remember, this has never happened in our section.''
Crowley added that students cannot file hardship-waiver transfer applications for athletic purposes.
``These kids are stuck, and the decision to unstick doesn't come from us; it comes from Westlake,'' Crowley said.
Students knew little more about what was going on.
``Everything is a secret,'' said Westlake freshman Hila Barzion. ``There's gossip about what happened, but everyone believes it.''
``A lot of the students on campus are talking about it,'' said junior football and basketball player Mike Seidman, ``but the wrestlers aren't saying anything.''