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Former TV Reporter’s Bizarre Facebook Post: ‘Dropped’ Hazing Case; Varsity Lockers With ‘PIYA” Stick, Boxing Gloves, Whip

West Valley High School photo: Facebook

In a city far from rural Cottonwood, Calif., many miles from one teenage boy’s parents, friends, classmates and the only hometown high school he’d ever known, a former West Valley Football player now lives where he never imagined; with his adult sister.

For many months, he’s been away from the community in which he’d been raised, apart from almost everyone he knew, away from the school district in which he’d learned to love football.

In his new home, he’s also safely away from the community where he alleges older teammates chased him, pinned him down and brandished the team’s traditional ‘PIYA stick’ upon him. He’s not alone. At least one other West Valley High School football player has made similar claims related to assaults from the “PIYA stick” favored by older athletes.

This “PIYA stick” – and perhaps some of the boys who wield it – can be found in Cottonwood, located along the far southern part of Shasta County. This is a town of less than 4,000 souls, many of whom raise their own food and livestock. This is a place where residents take pride in all-American values, including its own rodeo, parades, fundraisers, a 1,000-member militia, and an award-winning football program where football is king and coaches are like royalty (even ones who belong to the Cottonwood militia). In Cottonwood proper, along Gas Point Road, three flags are on display at a home across the street from the elementary school: one classic stars-and-stripes American flag, over a Trump 2020 “No More Bullshit” flag, and one nearby faded Confederate flag.

At school, people aren’t bashful about saying that Christmas is Christmas, Halloween is Halloween and Easter is Easter.

Exclusive breaking news

Friday, according to a “breaking news” Facebook video posted by former KRCR reporter Courtney Kreider, the Anderson Union High School District Superintendent released an emailed statement that contained the students’ allegations, the district’s findings, and, according to Kreider, the district’s dismissal of allegations due to a lack of corroborating evidence.

Wearing large dark-rimmed glasses, Kreider quickly delivered her report last week, speaking directly to her computer monitor, much as she did as a TV reporter addressing the camera last year when she worked for KRCR News in Redding. Kreider has since explained on social media that she and her former employer didn’t see eye to eye, so she left. After that she accepted a different TV news job in another state, but she said that didn’t work out, either, for similar reasons. She makes no bones about voicing her conservative opinions, which, as anyone might guess, could cause trouble at work if stories don’t bend far enough to the right to suite Kreider’s personal preferences.

So now Kreider’s back in Redding, this time working as an extremist group’s media expert for the Red White and Blueprint project, designed to recall any elected official whose beliefs don’t align with a motley collection of North State militia members, State of Jeffersonians, anti-maskers, science-deniers, Trump devotees and extremist conservative Christians.

Courtney Kreider, former KRCR news reporter, now right-wing independent media personality.

Kreider said on Facebook live:

“I am just getting this news, so I want to apologize. You are going to be reading it along with me as I’m getting this. I just got a full report of the allegations against members of the West Valley Football team. And so this is coming directly from the Anderson Union High School District. This letter was sent to the parents of the teammates that were involved. So this is information that I’m just getting in, and that’s why it’s a little just off the cuff. But I rushed home just to give you this, guys, give you this information. You’re hearing this first. So I’m going to read you what the superintendent wrote to these parents. And so here is the dismissal actually of the complaint. So these charges, just to point out, were dropped. So the charges against West Valley High School Football Team have been dropped. The letter states, and this is from the Superintendent.”

As you can see if you click on the hyperlink of Kreider’s Facebook post, it’s a mixture of video and text, some of which is redundant, and therefore confusing.

“So here it says that Football players at West Valley High School were sexually assaulted during a ‘hazing ritual’ wherein players were held down against their will while other players used a stick to poke, prod or press the anus of the restrained student athlete.” Kreider said.

“Now, those were the allegations.”

After she’d read the accusations, she then relayed the AUHSD’s findings:

“Here’s what’s been found,” Kreider said, ostensibly reading from the just-released report: “This ritual is alleged to have occurred in the team room when players were promoted from junior varsity to varsity on players’ birthdays as well as other occasions.”

Kreider provided a written story summary to her video, perhaps borrowing the same broadcast journalism format from her former TV news days:

“Title IX COMPLAINT VS. WEST VALLEY FOOTBALL DISMISSED: Parents plan possible countersuit against accusers & potentially the district ‘if our coaches are not reinstated immediately.’ I’ve broken down the findings from the District’s letter which was emailed to me below. — at West Valley High School, Cotton Wood”

Kreider explained she’d received the “exclusive” breaking news via personal email Friday, directly from the Anderson Union High School District Superintendent’s office regarding its Title IX investigation related to the hazing allegations.

Without providing an identifying meaning behind the “PIYA stick” she elaborated upon a description of it, and mentioned other items found in West Valley’s varsity team lockers:

“So the PIYA stick is a stick, such as a sword,” Kreider read from the email, and then continued:

“It says, ‘boxing gloves, a whip, and other small objects were kept in lockers in the varsity team room at least during the 2019-2020 and the 2020 and 2021 school years. During at least the 2019 to ’20 year and ’20 to ’21, it says that ‘the varsity football players used the PIYA stick on other players.”

Kreider clarified: “Meaning, they would poke or jab a player in their butt with the PIYA stick.”

She posted supporting text on her Facebook page, although it’s difficult to decipher whether this following text is an excerpt from an official report, or something Kreider extrapolated from the superintendent’s email or from elsewhere. Either way, below is an image of Kreider’s text summary, followed by the transcribed version. (Both are unedited.)

BREAKING >>> TITLE IX COMPLAINT VS. WEST VALLEY FOOTBALL DISMISSED. Parents plan possible countersuit against accusers & potentially the district “if our coaches are not reinstated immediately.”

According to the Anderson Union High School District, corroborating evidence and statement from 21 witnesses show no evidence of sexual harassment or assault among student athletes. The “PIYA Stick was something used during the 2019-2020 and the 2020-2021 school year. During those years the varsity football players apparently used the PIYA stick on other players, meaning they would poke or jab a player in the butt. The report says quote, “The contact was not welcomed by the receiving player and players would run away to avoid being held down and poked by the PIYA stick. The PIYA stick was most often used on a player when that player was celebrating their birthday, or when they were promoted from junior varsity to varsity. It is more likely than not that complain tenants were poked or jabbed by varsity player during the 2019-2020 and or 2020-2021 school year.”

However the report states, “There was no evidence that any student was held down and poked her job with the PIYA stick under their clothing or while they were nude.” The dismissal finalizes by stating there was insufficient evidence to conclude that any players were forced to use the PIYA stick on other players and there was no credible evidence presented to show the PIYA stick was used for a sexual purpose or connected to sexualize words or statements.”

Screen grab from virtual/in-person AUHSD board meeting.

Kreider departed briefly from reading the superintendent’s email to offer a personal aside, referring back to the board meeting attended by media, community members, West Valley football coaches, as well as parents, including those of some of the alleged victims.

“I was there where you saw some of the other players from previous years actually tune in to this meeting and just voice their beliefs with what this West Valley football program meant to them,” Kreider said.

“Obviously, it has been a very concrete program throughout Shasta County and the West Valley High School.”

West Valley High School in Cottonwood.

Obviously.

I watched that same meeting, but had a different take-away. Certainly, Kreider was correct that many players “voiced their beliefs” about what West Valley’s football program meant to them. There was no doubt that the coaches are held in high regard by school staff, students, players and parents alike.

In fact, by far the majority of people who spoke before the board that night were there to support and praise the coaches. Former football players, in person and virtually, talked about what a great experience they’d had at West Valley High School. They spoke of camaraderie and team spirit. They said the coaches helped them develop their character; turned boys into men of honor, and even brought some of the players closer to God. Likewise, parents of some players extolled the coaches’ virtues. One stepfather of a coach recounted that he can hardly set foot in a Cottonwood grocery story without being stopped by someone who must share what a great guy his stepson is.

It was as if they were all there to bear testimony to the coaches’ character, especially head coach Greg Grandell. So many positive words. So much adoration. All those coaches, without blame, and above reproach.

West Valley High School Football coaches, in happier times.

But three women’s sobering comments were in stark contrast to the words of praise and positivity bestowed upon the coaches and their football program. One of the mothers echoed some of the complementary terms used by speakers about the coaches.

“This is something that has transpired, and what I saw here tonight is burned in my brain forever, and I am just thankful my son does not see that his community has turned against him. And I agree, it is blood, and it is brotherhood, because you know what blood and brotherhood does? They stick together. They do not tell what they do behind closed doors. I believe 100 percent that it was brotherhood. And my son was never your brothers. And I’m proud of him for that.”

One mother began by saying she wasn’t there to talk about the coaches’ character.

“I’m here to talk about my son, a victim. I shouldn’t have to be here. This is a horrible experience, only being made worse, but I have to stand up for my son. He is the victim here. And again, tonight, I feel like he’s been violated again in this room, with every single one of you, as we watch the pat on the backs, the hugs as we walk in, as we sit in the corner there for my son.

“He endured a horrible assault by boys on the varsity football team, and is now being victimized again by the community, rallying support for the very people who neglected to protect my son, instead of standing up for the children that were hurt. It was very painful for my son to be assaulted by the very boys he had worked so hard to be teammates with. And then not to be listened to or believed by the teachers and the coaches that he trusted, some he’s known since he was a very little boy. He started at 6 playing for West Valley Junior Football. He has received threats, so we had to move him out of town for his protection. Even worse, the teachers and the coaches that he trusted, respected have turned on him, victimizing him all over again.

And again, tonight, I am proud that my son has stood up for himself; told the truth about what has happened. It’s been very difficult thing to do, and will take time for him to heal from the trauma. This public display tonight, and social media hateful comments toward a 16-year-old who never hurt anyone is disgusting and painful. What if it were your son?”

A mother asked for everyone to consider one particular word.

“Let’s think of the word fatal. Do you know what statistics say happens to kids that have been bullied?  … You’re right, it could be fatal. And because we have coaches standing behind the team and leaders in the team that we know have done things … I have lost all respect because my son is just as important as each one of you.

Has anyone asked if my son made it home the other night? Or if her son made it home the other night? Or if we could find them? Or if they feel like living? Do they feel like the whole world’s against them? Are they depressed? I can go on and on. Has anyone cared? No, because everyone is focused on one thing: playing football. My son has a number on his back as well … and I definitely don’t want it on a tombstone. Do you understand that?

One alleged victim’s mother said she’d intentionally waited to speak until almost the very last, because she wanted to hear what others had to say. She said she knew many of the people in the room that night.

“Something that really stood out to me tonight was not one person — these coaches, community members, board, not one of you — asked how our sons were. But I saw pats on the back, I saw thumbs up to the team.

Thank God my son is not here. Our prior speaker that just came up, she used the word fatal. I hope you take that to heart …”

At last, the sister of one of the alleged victims spoke virtually. She described herself as a former West Valley High School graduate. She said she was glad her brother wasn’t there to hear the absence of words of support or concern from players and coaches. Also absent, she said, were words of condemnation for the football players accused of the alleged assaults.

“Now, when a child makes a claim that they have been assaulted and that’s not being heard, I’m listening to this meeting, and I’m just shocked to listen to people defending the program and defending the coaches, but at the end of the day, wasn’t the claim simply that these students were assaulted?

I am taking care of my brother now. He has moved in with me. I have moved him out of that community. My parents agreed that, everyone has agreed that, and for this meeting, listening to all of you speak now, I am so glad he is not there to witness how no one would rally for him … So, thank you for confirming why I wanted to move my brother out of that town.”

Did Superintendent Victor Hopper happen to send the Instagram?

As if this story could not get any more bizarre, on Friday a message appeared on Instagram, supposedly posted by AUHSD Superintendent Victor Hopper. The message became public when someone left a screen grab of the Instagram message as a comment on Kreider’s Facebook page, which Kreider did not dispute.

(Of course, I reached out to the superintendent over the weekend seeking comment, and received no reply.)

I say this message “supposedly” came from the superintendent, because although the Instagram certainly contains Superintendent Hopper’s name, the hand-written message, penned on what appears to be a piece of lined notebook paper, lacks the professional appearance one might except from a school district superintendent, especially about such a weighty legal matter.

What’s more, the message, which begins, “Hello AUHSC Family & Friends,” was printed in a style that looks more like something written by a grade-schooler than a superintendent. Even so, appearances aside, the note’s content was the most questionable:

“Hello AUHSD Family & Friends: Our Title IX investigation has turned out inconclusive due to lack of cooperation from all parties involved in this investigation; many of which lawyered up.

However, the criminal investigation is on-going and is currently headed by the Shasta County Sheriff’s Department. If you have information about this case, please contact the Major Crimes Unit.

We continue to offer counseling support services for anyone needing of these services.

Safety is our number 1 priority, however, it is a shared responsibility. Thank you for your understanding, patience and support.”

Is this a joke?

Many of which lawyered up. 

Safety is our number 1 priority, however, it is a shared responsibility. Shared responsibility? As in, it’s up to the kids to ensure safety is their No. 1 priority?

What the actual hell?

Title IX is Fine, until it’s not

According to the requirements under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972,
Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs that receive federal financial assistance. West Valley receives federal money.

The district’s findings in the Title IX investigation make zero sense, and are actually contradictory. For example, on the one hand, review the  segment of Kreider’s report where she read just one portion of what the district acknowledged as the undisputed truth:

“So the PIYA stick is a stick, such as a sword. It says, ‘boxing gloves, a whip, and other small objects were kept in lockers in the varsity team room at least during the 2019-2020 and the 2020 and 2021 school years. During at least the 2019 to ’20 year and ’20 to ’21, it says that ‘the varsity football players used the PIYA stick on other players. Meaning, they would poke or jab a player in their butt with the PIYA stick.”

And yet, on the other hand, review what Kreider reported as the district’s grounds for “dropping” the case:

“According to the Anderson Union High School District, corroborating evidence and statement from 21 witnesses show no evidence of sexual harassment or assault among student athletes. The “PIYA Stick was something used during the 2019-2020 and the 2020-2021 school year. During those years the varsity football players apparently used the PIYA stick on other players, meaning they would poke or jab a player in the butt. The report says quote, “The contact was not welcomed by the receiving player and players would run away to avoid being held down and poked by the PIYA stick. The PIYA stick was most often used on a player when that player was celebrating their birthday, or when they were promoted from junior varsity to varsity. It is more likely than not that complain tenants were poked or jabbed by varsity player during the 2029-2020 and or 2020-2021 school year.”

However the report states, “There was no evidence that any student was held down and poked her job with the PIYA stick under their clothing or while they were nude.” The dismissal finalizes by stating there was insufficient evidence to conclude that any players were forced to use the PIYA stick on other players and there was no credible evidence presented to show the PIYA stick was used for a sexual purpose or connected to sexualize words or statements.”

The district’s statement admits the actions were unwelcome. The district’s statement admits players ran away “to avoid being held down and poked by the PIYA stick”.

If someone’s raped on their birthday, it doesn’t negate the rape.

Look at this another way. Your daughter’s a high school cheerleader. Some mute football players chase her, pin her to the ground and push a PIYA stick (“such as a sword) against her genitals and/or buttocks. No sexual conversation is spoken by the football players.

Could anything convince you that that assault wasn’t sexual in nature? Could anything convince you that it wasn’t done to terrorize and instill fear ? Could anything convince that girl that she’d not been assaulted?

Why should the standard be any different for young male football players, dominated by older players? The district can split hairs over whether the assaults were done on nude players. I have not spoken to the alleged victims, so I have no clue the extent of how far and how deep that PIYA was pushed after those boys were chased and pinned down. But but assault is assault, fear is fear, and sexual assault is sexual assault. Guess who knows better than any school district which is which? Victims.  Victims know.

West Valley’s hazing allegation timeline marches on

It’s been about seven months since the first alleged assault was inflicted by older football players against younger ones. And it’s been five months since KRCR News first broke the story about the hazing allegations after getting a tip from a parent about a Sheriff’s Department investigation. No comment from the Anderson Union High School Superintendent, nor West Valley High School’s principal, vice principal or the school’s football coaches. That’s the nature of investigations and personnel issues.

We know a few things.

Here on A News Cafe, reporter Annelise Piece wrote a story about what she’d learned from some West Valley High School parents about the alleged assaults, an act some parents characterized as rape.

Since then, despite rumors that the Shasta County Sheriff’s Department hasn’t found anything damning, the investigation continues. Not so much an open/shut case, it seems.

And yes, at least some of the alleged victims are indeed being represented by personal injury law firm Barr and Mudford of Redding. (Disclosure: Barr and Mudford is a long-time advertiser on A News Cafe.)

Finally, here we are full circle, and according to Kreider, the AUHSD conducted its own Title IX investigation after interviewing nearly two dozen people. The district decided, despite being unable to interview the alleged victims (who’d, as Hopper stated, “lawyered up”), that there’s no evidence of sexual harassment or assault among student athletes. Ergo, to hear the AUHSD tell it, the hazing case is dead in the water, and all’s that left now is a counter lawsuit, and then get those coaches back on the field.

“Hell ya get Grandall back, otherwise wvhs football is going to crash,” wrote one commenter on Kreider’s Facebook post.

“I knew that the allegations were not true. PIYA!!!!” wrote another.

Perhaps some substitute coaches are helping out, because although all West Valley’s coaches resigned just before Thanksgiving, according to West Valley’s football schedule, the team has some upcoming games after all.

Speaking of coaches

Shortly after the November allegations first surfaced on social media, West Valley coach Jim Vert took to Facebook with a very long message that I copied and saved for a rainy day. Today’s that day.

Vert said all the things I’d expect from a coach in this unenviable position. He spoke of a long, happy West Valley football coaching career that began in 1989. He described himself as a passionate person, and proudly told about school’s first section championship, three years after he became  head coach in 1990.

Jim Vert, former West Valley football coach.

Then he spoke of traditions, like the Find a Way philosophy.

“Find a Way to us simply means Find a Way in, not out,” he wrote. “When things get tough, find a way to get through it. When you are challenged, find a way to win. When you have something bad happen to you, find a way to overcome it. Learn from it and get better.”

Eventually, Vert got around to talking about PIYA, something Vert said he gained agreement from Coach Greg Grandell to implement at West Valley’s football program more than 20 years ago. Vert said that the PIYA tradition started long before that, more than 40 years ago, by a group of 13- and 14-year old Pop Warner kids in Southern California.

“I know because I was one of those kids,” Vert wrote, adding that he’s protective of PIYA and its meaning.

“I’m not going to tell you what it means because that is for all our our past and current players and coaches,” he wrote. Not even his own sons know, or his wife. For the record, he said PIYA doesn’t mean anything “heinous”, nor is it an acronym. Vert said it’s been used by boys and girls and coaches and administrators. He said that players said “PIYA” at one of their teammate’s funeral, and it’s been said at weddings, at graduations, and other meaningful occasions.

I get why Vert would want to keep PIYA a secret. But PIYA was born in a different time, a time when it was OK to ask kids to keep secrets, even from their parents, because a kindly coach said so.

PIYA’s time for exposure may have come. For a trusted adult to ask a student to keep a secret is to invite that child down a slippery slope, one that’s been well-used by adults with illicit intentions. By no stretch of the imagination am I accusing Vert, or any of the coaches, of keeping nasty, forbidden secrets between them and the boys. However, I am suggesting that if PIYA cannot withstand the light of day and full disclosure, maybe it wasn’t that special after all.

About that light

When COVID closed down West Valley’s Football program, Coach Grandell starred with his players in a creative video production that implored California’s governor to Please Let Us Play.

But the PIYA allegations got another kind of reaction from Grandell: defeat. The day the West Valley coaches resigned was the day the coaches demonstrated a colossal double standard; one for their players, and another for themselves. Of course, as kids always do when it comes to adult role models, they watched and learned.

In the coaches’ darkest hours, rather than show the way and stand by all their players – from the alleged victims to the alleged accused – they threw in the towel and walked away. They left the boys orphan-athletes to face the fight alone. When controversy reared its head, the coaches had a once-in-a-lifetime golden opportunity to show how to withstand the most epic storms ever, while defending their team.

After all, they’d done nothing wrong, right?

What did they do instead? They quit.

For all the pep talks to young football players about manning up, doing the right thing, and hanging in there when you want to quit, the coaches failed to demonstrate how to implement what they’d asked of their young athletes all those years.

“You’re going to be revealed in the light what you do in the dark,” Grandell said to some high school quarterbacks during the Winning Edge Camp a few years back.

“Average people usually go until it’s tough and uncomfortable, Grandell said.

“People that get good results go until it’s painful, and then they quit. And world-class people know how to manage those uncomfortable, painful, embarrassing, discouraging times and continue to work through them.”

At the moment, few would describe AUHSD’s Title IX investigation as world-class. In fact, based upon last week’s release of information, the most charitable thing one might say about the district’s leadership is it appears to be performing below average, right in the middle of one of the most uncomfortable, embarrassing and discouraging times in its history.

All the while, some coaches continue to bemoan the unfairness of losing an entire football season. Some claim they didn’t know shit about about a PIYA stick, or if they did, they had no clue how it was used. Others blame the alleged victims. Yet others complain that nobody can be expected to watch kids 24/7.

So much for decades’ worth of talk about brotherhood, loyalty, and being that man in the mirror you’re proud to face every day.

When the going got tough, the toughest coaches got going, and lost their way, to the place where they became the the tail wagging the dog. They forgot that the very point of the school’s football program is not for their ego, entertainment and enjoyment.

Silly coaches. They forgot that football’s for kids. All of them. Even that kid sitting in a strange city, because he’s no longer comfortable in his own hometown. Second thought, football’s especially for that kind of kid.

Find a way.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.

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