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Charges detailed in Mount Carmel football hazing investigation

Players were burned with sparklers in a team initiation ritual, investigators said.

MOUNT CARMEL, Pa. — There is new information in a two-year hazing probe of former football players in Mount Carmel.

Investigators say there are nine victims, some with scarring from burns.

According to court papers, the nine alleged victims were blindfolded, told to pull down their pants, and burned with sparklers and lit burning sticks on their buttocks. They were also told not to tell anyone.

Last week, the Pennsylvania attorney general's office filed charges against nine current and former football players from the Mount Carmel Area School District for a hazing incident in 2020.

According to court papers, players were invited to the home of Mount Carmel Area team captain Reed Witkoski to watch game footage. During the watch party, nine other players went through what investigators call an informal initiation.

According to court papers, the alleged victims were blindfolded, told to pull down their pants, and burned with sparklers and punks — burning sticks used to keep bugs away.

Investigators say the students were burned on their buttocks. Some of the injuries required hospital visits, and some have scarring.

While at least one person came forward, investigators say there was "little to no amount of cooperation from the parents of other victims."

Authorities reached out to around 20 parents as part of the investigation. One parent was quoted as wanting to know "who ratted on the team."

In 2020, Mount Carmel head football coach John Darrah was made aware of the accusations. The school board was notified, and practices were canceled. Darrah tried talking to the players with no success. Shortly after that, the rest of the 2020 season was canceled.

Witkowski, Damon Dowkus, and another person who was a juvenile at the time are charged with hazing, simple assault, and intimidation of a victim.

Tyler Owens, Michael Balichik, and four others who were juveniles at the time have been charged with hazing and criminal conspiracy to commit hazing.

"I love the football team, but they are put on a pedestal, and I don't think it's right. These kids that they hazed are trying just as hard to make the team," said Terry Goguts of Atlas.

"I think it's terrible that the boys that got tormented had to put up with that, and I know some had really serious burns," said Virginia Shopinski, a Mount Carmel resident.

According to Mount Carmel Area School District's superintendent, since these allegations, a number of new initiatives have started. For example, all student-athletes must complete a hazing informational course once each school year.

As for the nine people charged, no court date has been set.

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