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A NA3HL Sheridan Hawks puck at the Whitney Rink in the M&M’s Center Friday, Oct. 16, 2020.

SHERIDAN — The North American 3 Hockey League Sheridan Hawks confirmed a United States Center for SafeSport investigation is ongoing regarding hazing allegations made against the junior program, though the NA3HL and SafeSport approved the resumption of the Hawks’ practice and games. The Hawks have also implemented “safeguards” throughout the organization and communicated an explicit no tolerance policy for hazing or bullying and reinforced the junior Hawks’ culture and code of conduct.

The Sheridan Press received a tip from Cheyenne sports reporter Jeremiah Johnke Feb. 24 of alleged hazing by the NA3HL Sheridan Hawks, followed by an anonymous phone call from someone who identified himself as a parent of a player but refused to provide a name.

In a statement to The Press, the junior program confirmed they received an email containing allegations of hazing within the Hawks organization Feb. 20 “from a person not associated with the Sheridan Hawk’s Team, USA Hockey or the North American 3 Hockey League.”

The Hawks said they were “deeply concerned by the allegations” and took immediate action to notify the team’s board, and the organization forwarded the email the team received to the NA3HL. Sheridan also reported the allegations to SafeSport, a national, independent nonprofit organization “focused on ending all forms of abuse in sport,” per SafeSport’s website.

Members of the Hawks’ board then placed the coaching staff on leave while ceasing practice and conducted a confidential internal investigation. The Hawks said one player did report allegations of what he described as hazing in the locker room, and Sheridan said, “The allegations were of a nature which, while unacceptable, do unfortunately occur in high school and junior level team locker rooms.

“The player said the behaviors alleged involved senior players assessing monetary fines more heavily on younger players and rookies for various infractions, such as being late to practice, as well as threatening or forcing them to participate in a potentially humiliating activity if payment wasn’t made.”

SafeSport’s website did not list the Hawks’ investigation and told The Press, “A name only appears in the database if, through a temporary measure or following an investigation, the Center restricts an individual’s eligibility to participate in sport within the [United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee].

While the Sheridan Hawks organization awaits SafeSport to complete its investigation, the team has resumed practice and competition with the approval of the NA3HL and SafeSport. The investigation did not impact the Hawks game schedule.

In addition to communicating an explicit no tolerance policy for hazing or bullying of any kind, reinforcing the junior Hawks’ culture and code of conduct and conducting refresher training on SafeSport guidelines, the statement continued, independent monitors are now observing the team during practices, locker room time and games to ensure that our players, families and coaches feel safe.

The junior Hawks said if any findings of misconduct are discovered by SafeSport, the NA3HL or USA Hockey, appropriate disciplinary action will be taken. The organization will also implement any further protocols recommended by SafeSport, USA Hockey and the NA3HL.

The statement ended: “The entire Junior Hawks organization takes the health and safety of its players very seriously. Their well-being is our first priority. We actively cultivate a culture of mutual respect, personal and athletic achievement and community service. The Sheridan Junior Hawks organization cannot state this any more clearly: If hazing activity did happen, we can assure you that we will do everything in our power to prevent it from happening again.”

The Hawks host the Helena Bighorns at the Whitney Rink in the M&M’s Center at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday in their regular season finale.

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