LEROY — Pine River Area Schools has canceled the remainder of its 2021 varsity football season due to bullying and harassment within the program.
The Bucks were scheduled to host Houghton Lake on Saturday and then close the regular season Oct. 22 at Chippewa Hills.
Pine River superintendent Matt Lukshaitis the initial investigation into allegations of bullying and harassment by student-athletes found more and more evidence of a larger problem.
“As part of an investigation into allegations concerning bullying and harassment, it has become apparent that our current varsity football team has developed a toxic culture that we as a school district cannot accept.
“This investigation has mushroomed into a handful of investigations, all stemming from similar incidents where bullying and harassment have been discovered. While not every player on the varsity football team has actively taken part, many members of the team stood idly by and said nothing while these things occurred, creating a culture of bullying and hazing. This is not okay.”
Lukshaitis continued by saying that wins and losses on the football mean little when compared to integrity of the program and the school district.
“We are canceling football for the remainder of the season because integrity means more to us than winning or losing. Our pride is on the line,” he said. “We cannot allow young men to bully other young men through an abuse of position or power. Hazing and bullying have no place on a football or in a school district.
“While all our investigating has not been completed, we have an overwhelming amount of evidence that points to a season-long history of maltreatment by one group of players upon another.”
Pine River forfeited a game to Beal City on Oct. 1 due to COVID-19 cases within the program and the subsequent contact tracing.
The Bucks then played a combined varsity/JV team last Friday against McBain because of continued low numbers.
Lukshaitis said there would not have been enough players to compete in the final two games if all those involved or stood by had been removed.
“Without getting into specifics — which we cannot do without jeopardizing ongoing investigations — this sort of hazing that has gone on here this football season has to come to an end,” he said.
“Sadly, if we were to remove all those who acted badly or stood silent and did nothing to speak up for others, then we would be left with not enough players to even dress out a team.
“The varsity football season is therefore immediately canceled. It is our job now to own our mistakes and correct this environment. Because we want to preserve a future where varsity football can safely return with honor, we are canceling. The district, administration and coaches apologize to our opponents in Weeks 8 and 9, and to our parents and community who mostly will have heard of this for the first time.”