Monday evening the superintendent of schools in La Vernia, southeast of San Antonio, is going to talk to the community about an alleged sexual hazing program involving student athletes. The arrests of at least 10 students have devastated citizens in this rural town of 1,200.
For four generations, Mary Stork’s family members have played on the athletic teams at La Vernia High School. Stork says the only way to describe reports about police arresting student athletes for sexual assault is “devastating.”
“I’m disappointed with things that are happening right now, I know it's something our town is going to have to deal with but I know its going to be an uphill battle," Stork says.
She says her college-age son played football for La Vernia several years ago, but until now she’d never heard about hazing as an initiation for being part of the varsity sports teams. Local investigators have said the hazing involved sexual assault by fellow athletes and took place over the past three years. The police chief has said there may be as many as two dozen victims.
Phillip Higginbotham is a youth pastor at the La Vernia United Methodist Church and works directly with parents and students attending the high school.
“We’ve heard a lot of, ‘We moved out to La Vernia to get away from these sorts of things, thinking that was going to be the case,’ unfortunately, this is just one of those wake-up calls where we find out these kind of things can happen no matter where you are," he says.
Higginbotham says he’s heard from parents and students who believe school officials knew about the assaults, but Higginbotham believes they would have notified law enforcement long ago if that were the case.
“I’ve heard students and parents say they’ve known this was going on but I can’t imagine what it would mean for someone who’s given their life and dedication to students, to put that on the back burner and say I’ve given my life and dedication to students but no further," he says.
Parents and community members will have the opportunity to question and hear from school officials Monday night when school Superintendent Jose Moreno addresses the community at a specially-called board meeting.