Towson University near Baltimore has suspended its entire national award-winning cheerleading team for the academic year following an incident where veteran cheerleaders hazed new recruits.
All 30 people on the team, which won first place at the National Cheerleaders Association's collegiate championship in April, are banned from practicing and performing at competitions and university sporting events.
"Hazing in any form will not be tolerated at Towson University,” Deb Moriarty, vice president for student affairs, said in a statement. “We hold high expectations for all of our students and their conduct as leaders, both on and off campus.”
The university would not reveal exactly what happened, but the school’s anti-hazing policy defines hazing as: "any action taken or situation created intentionally, whether on or off campus, to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment or ridicule.”
According to the university policy, “such activities and situations include but are not limited to: paddling in any form; creation of excessive fatigue; road trips; scavenger hunts; publicly wearing apparel which is conspicuous and not normally in good taste; engaging in public stunts and humiliating games and activities; late night sessions that interfere with scholastic and occupational activities; calisthenics (push-ups, sit-ups, runs, etc.); line-ups (lining people up and harassing them verbally); running personal errands for the members; forced consumption of alcohol, illegal substances or food; and any other activities not consistent with the academic mission of the university."
The punishment is unusually harsh, observers noted. "I have never heard of a whole team getting suspended," Jim Lord, executive director of the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators, told the Baltimore Sun. "That is pretty rare, maybe unheard of."
Some universities, however, have taken a stronger stance against hazing since a drum major died in a hazing incident at Florida A&M University in 2011.
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The team is expected to appeal the suspension.