WESTLAKE HIGH HAZING CLAIMS HAVE PARENTS CONSIDERING SWITCH.
For Jeff Sigel, the police investigation into hazing incidents that led to suspension of the Westlake High School wrestling program has shattered his confidence that he had found a safe haven for his children.
On Friday, with the campus and community abuzz with rumors, school and police officials clamped an umbrella of silence over allegations of ``gross misconduct'' by some members of the wrestling team against one or more teammates.
Parents were left worried and in many cases angry.
``I pay three times the rent I can afford so my son can go to Westlake,'' said Sigel, a film technician whose son Ryan, a sophomore, plays football.
``It's supposed to be a first-rate school, but if kids can pull stunts like all this hazing, maybe there needs to be more supervision,'' he said. ``I live for my children, and from what I've seen I don't think I'm going to let my daughter go to this school. . . . It's more than disturbing. I want to get to the bottom of it and hear what happened. If it turns out there's a cover-up, I'll pull my kid out.''
Parent Bruce Clay, waiting in a line of Lexuses, Mercedes and BMWs to pick up his son, said rumors about the hazing incidents had left him seriously concerned.
It was the same for parent Rich Deitemeyer, who said he settled in the Westlake Village area when he moved from Michigan because he thought it was ``a good environment for children'' and Westlake High came highly recommended.
``I'm very much concerned,'' Deitemeyer said. ``All this has to do with supervision.''
With winter break starting, Westlake High Athletic Director Joseph Pawlick put off meeting with parents of the wrestlers.
He sent them a letter Friday that read, in full:
``As you are aware, the 1997-1998 Westlake High School wrestling season has been terminated for reasons of gross team misconduct. Due to the need to maintain confidentiality of individual student discipline issues, I am unable to discuss this matter on a general basis.
``If you desire to meet with me personally to discuss your student, I will be available when we return to session after winter break.''
Pawlick and Principal Curt Luft did not return phone calls seeking comment about the case, which has prompted the Ventura County Sheriff's Department to open an investigation to determine whether the hazing reached the point of criminal misconduct.
Sgt. Rodney Mendoza said two detectives have been assigned to the case, and school administrators have given detectives a list of wrestling team members who may be involved in the ``possible assault.''
At least one student was interviewed, and detectives will continue interviewing others over the weekend, Mendoza said. No suspects had yet been interviewed.
``We're still trying to get victims' statements and determine how many (victims) there are,'' Mendoza said.
Meanwhile, some members of the wrestling team and their parents were looking into transferring to other schools to continue their participation in the sport. But doing so appears to be an uphill battle according to Dean Crowley, California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section commissioner of athletics, who said athletic transfers are ineligible to compete for varsity teams, and there is no such thing as an athletic hardship waiver.
Crowley said he would consider possible exceptions on a case-by-case basis if Westlake's administration first cleared the student athletes of any wrongdoing.
Calabasas wrestling coach Andy Falk, whose school is five miles away, said he would welcome Westlake wrestlers if they went through the proper channels and were declared eligible.
``I can use all the kids I can get,'' Falk said.