Update July 27th: Committee will determine whether or not the four students can play this fall on July 28th. Updated post HERE.
Update August 22nd: The four students will not be permitted to play football. Updated post HERE.
Four Syracuse High School football players accused of committing dozens of crimes must convince a Syracuse High School athletic committee and the Utah Division of Juvenile Justice Services they should be allowed back on the team. Full story published July 18th, 2008 in the Ogden Standard-Examiner and aired July 17th on KSL Channel 5. Earlier stories published July 3rd by the Salt Lake Tribune and July 4th by the Deseret News referenced for background.
Some earlier media stories and the Standard-Examiner claim there are only four, but other media outlets report five. It looks like a total of six were originally caught.
Second District Judge Diane Wilkins and Assistant Davis County District Attorney Rick Westmoreland have given tacit approval to the teens' playing football. At a so-called "detention/home detention hearing" July 3rd, Wilkins made exceptions to the teens' no contact order that would allow them to practice and play football on the same team, but not near each other.
However, this just means the judge and the prosecution do not object if the four are allowed to play varsity football for Syracuse High School this fall. The final decision will be rendered first by the Utah Division of Juvenile Justice Services, and then by the school administration. The school has yet to make a decision on the players' eligibility.
One of the players, accompanied by his attorney and his mother, met with Syracuse High School Principal Craig Hansen, but indicated the family has not received an answer as to whether the school will allow the teen to play. Reached by telephone, Hansen said a 10- to 15-member committee will make a decision on each student's eligibility to play, but is waiting for the charges to be heard in court. "We have an athletic committee and a code of conduct. When there's a violation of that code, that committee -- made up of teachers, coaches, administrators and the athletic director -- will decide the outcome of the athletes," Hansen said. The possible outcomes include probation, but be allowed to play; be suspended for a series of weeks or games; or be kicked off the team. The school's athletic director is Kelly Anderson.
The Syracuse students didn't just engage in pranks. The four players, as well as two other teens, are collectively accused of 54 charges, many of which would be felonies if committed by adults. Their juvenile delinquency petitions include charges of burglary, theft and reckless driving on a series of nights in April, May and June in Davis and Weber counties. Accounts vary; as many as 15 businesses and six vehicles were reported to be burglarized. They were caught after a police chase when they crashed into an Ogden apartment, inflicting serious property damage. Each is on home detention, having been released from juvenile detention centers weeks ago. Two of them made their first appearance in court on Wednesday July 16th, and both denied the allegations against them. However, the juveniles previously confessed to police.
This goes beyond youthful misbehavior - this is organized, persistent crime. Yet the judge and the prosecutor have no objection to allowing four of them to play varsity football this fall.
The teens will be expected to pay restitution. While a total restitution amount has not been compiled, after the hearing, ADA Westmoreland said that $18,000 has been requested in restitution by two of the burglarized businesses. He's still waiting to receive paperwork from 11 others. The teens' restitution requirements will not expire when the boys turn 21. Other conditions imposed by the juvenile court do expire. None of the teens have a prior criminal record, and all are reported to be good students. They said they did it because they "got a rush" out of it.
In addition, the teens could also be sued civilly by insurance companies of victimized businesses, but it is not known whether any claims have been made by insurance companies in this case. Both teens are scheduled to be back in court during the last week of July.
Commentary: Comments posted to the media stories indicate the judge and prosecutor are out of touch with the community. The overwhelming majority of respondents oppose allowing the teens to play football this fall. Comments also reveal that the team's coach, Russ Jones, is behind the move to reinstate the players. Apparently these are his better players, and his team's coming off a winless season.
Nevertheless, it doesn't matter if these students had no prior record. They went on a full-blown crime spree - and did it for "the rush". Restitution must go beyond the physical - they must be required to give up something of personal value. And that "something" should be football. Perhaps the judge may not be "candy-assed"; she might be a libertarian who simply wants to pass the decision-making power to the lowest level of supervision. But it sure looks like judicial coddling and typical jock-worship. Would they be getting this consideration if they weren't jocks?
The athletic director cannot be directly contacted by e-mail. However, the Syracuse High Principal Craig Hansen can be contacted. Click HERE to access his e-mail page. Contact him and urge him NOT allow the students to play football this fall.