For some reason, people love to perpetuate the myth of the idyllic small town. Usually, such myths are used as a comparison to the evil, hedonistic, crime-ridden big cities. In small towns, so the myths go, neighbors cheerfully help one another, work hard, do their shopping on Main Street, and everyone lives a simpler, happier, more moral existence than, say, effete East Coast intellectuals.
(These shenanigans are cheeky and fun. Beloit’s shenanigans are cruel and tragic.)
The truth is that the myth of the idyllic American small town is by and large dead. Wal-Marts have rendered Main Street storefronts all but abandoned, family farms have long gone bankrupt or been rendered useless by multinational corporations, drugs and crime are sky-high, and people are hostile, distrustful, and bitter. But one thing still stands to tie towns like Beloit, Kansas, together - high school football.
The north-central Kansas town of Beloit has a history of athletics success. Longtime Purdue basketball coach Gene Keady got his start in coaching here and the town, like many small towns, is proud of its teams. But when the news broke last week that two upperclassmen were being criminally investigated for their role in a hazing incident, that pride could’ve taken a swift kick to the nads.
The Beloit Police Department was told the hazing took place during the evening of Aug. 21, after practice. Stocker said a muscle relaxant gel, similar to Icy Hot, was applied to the body of the freshman.
“It was not voluntary. We’re still trying to find out if he was physically restrained,” Noah said. The 14-year-old required medical treatment, Noah said, but has since recovered.
I say that it could have hurt pride if the response was divided. In the past, incidents like this might have been brushed aside or outright ignored. The victim might have been mocked or told to toughen up, even though he required medical attention. Sometimes in small towns, after all, attitudes about such things aren’t, um, enlightened. But to Beloit’s credit, the entire town appears to be doing the right thing. The police department, school district, coaches, and city council are all unanimous in their condemnation of hazing.
Internet commenters, of course, are another breed altogether. In fact, we were tempted to paint this story as one of divisiveness in the community; the comments get into deepr issues of class and civic issues. But after talking with a couple Kansas friends and high school coaches over the holiday weekend, it’s clear that the dissenting commenters don’t reflect the mood of the town. And undoubtedly, the comments here will say “boys will be boys” or support hazing as an acceptable ritual. But the truth is that no kid should have to be treated by a doctor because of a team-building “ritual” or punishment, and Beloit, Kansas deserves a little recognition for understanding that.