Two McDowell High School football players have been charged with assaulting another team member during a hazing ritual in the locker room, deputies confirmed Thursday.

Lt. Andy Manis of the McDowell County Sheriff’s Office has charged two 15-year-old white males in an assault that left another 15-year-old white male with bruising on his rectum. Their names were not released due to their ages.

One of the suspects was charged with misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon and misdemeanor hazing. The other faces a felony charge of obstruction of justice, misdemeanor hazing and misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon.

All three boys were members of the jayvee football team, and the victim was in his first year on the team. The two suspects were returning players.

According to Richelle Bailey, public information assistant for the MCSO, the teenage victim reported the assault on Aug. 19 to his youth pastor, who informed McDowell High’s principal Edwin Spivey, who then reported it to police.

“Lt. Manis’ investigation showed there was some sort of hazing ritual where returning team members would poke the newer members with a broom handle. In this case, the victim reported the broom handle went up his rectum and caused bruising,” she told the newspaper on Thursday.

Bailey added that the investigation revealed that these rituals have been going on for years and that multiple players were aware of what was going on, but no other reports of injuries have been reported. She said the felony obstruction charge stems from one of the suspects attempting to cover up the truth about the incident, according to the investigation report.

“Some of the players would participate in poking other players with the brooms, but the investigation shows that these two were the only ones charged in this assault,” she said.

McDowell’s new principal, Edwin Spivey, said that the assault allegedly occurred during a voluntary workout session before school began, but when he learned of the accusation he immediately contacted authorities.

“We worked with law enforcement and provided them with any information they needed. They met with some of the coaches and players and conducted interviews to get to the bottom of it. We take every allegation seriously and we have a zero-tolerance policy toward hazing and harassment. We will do everything in our power to prevent things like this from happening in the future and to ensure student safety is number one,” he said. “We are going to work diligently with our coaches and our students to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Spivey said the two sophomore students will be facing school disciplinary action once all of the details of the investigation are released to school authorities.

“Discipline will be coming and we will follow our policies here at the school. We are going to hold the students accountable according to our code of conduct,” Spivey explained.

Spivey said the Coach Carson Gowan addresses the team each year before the season begins about making good decisions and using their heads.

“He talks to them about rules and behaviors. Carson works hard to try and keep the team safe,” Spivey said.

Gowan has been involved with the high school football program for the past 30 years and said that the two students that were charged have been suspended from the team.

“We had two guys make a momentary lapse in judgment, and you consider these guys your kids, and you hope that they do well, and sometimes they don’t go the way you want them to. But, as soon as we found out, we turned it over to the Sheriff’s Office,” Gowan said Thursday as the jayvees were gearing up to head to Mitchell County for a game.

He said once the details have been finalized he plans on meeting with the players to hopefully intercept any future issues. He added that in his 30 years in the football program, he has never had to deal with this situation from the players.

“We are going to use this as a teachable moment, and you have to hope that it helps the rest of the players. We tell them that we don’t put with any foolishness and if you do something bad, we will contact authorities,” he added. “I tell them about my 80 rule: the average American lives to be 80 years old, so if you make a mistake when you are 15, you have to live with it for 65 years.”

The Sheriff’s Office said the case has now been turned over to juvenile authorities.

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