Potentially damning, graphic details of alleged West Valley High School football hazing incidents were described in a comprehensive complaint filed in Shasta County Superior Court Tuesday on behalf of four former West Valley High School football players.
The students are represented by Redding law firm Barr & Mudford. (Note: Barr & Mudford is a long-time A News Cafe advertiser.)
In the complaint each minor is identified as “John Doe” – defined in the complaint as a “pseudonym utilized as privacy protection for victims of childhood sexual harassment, assault and hazing”.
A dozen specific personal injury complaints were cited, ranging from negligence, breach of mandated reporter laws and failure to supervise, to gender discrimination and a variety of civil-rights violations.
Descriptions of some of the alleged hazing abuses cited in the filed complaint included:
• ‘Tea-bagging” – where one player places his bare scrotum on another player’s face.
• Simulating sexual acts, such as “dry-humping”.
• Forced boxing matches.
• Assault with the “PIYA” stick.
The filed complaint went on to describe 22 allegations, with the 23rd being four John Doe stories about events that happened at West Valley High School, located in Cottonwood in southern Shasta County.
The first allegation point shared what Greg Grandell, the former veteran West Valley football coach (who resigned following last year’s hazing allegations) said during a recent school board meeting. According to the complaint, Grandell’s speech was “ostensibly aimed at regaining his job”. During the meeting, Grandell was quoted as having professed love for ‘all of my players’ and that it was Grandell’s desire to protect his football players.
At that juncture, as an aside, the authors of the complaint added, “Just, apparently, based upon the evidence, not from one another,” referring to the alleged player-upon-player hazing abuses.
The second allegation acknowledged that West Valley High School is known for its athletic programs, and noted that the varsity football team is the school’s “pride and joy”.
This was followed by No. 3, a description of the “dark side” of West Valley High School’s football program:
” … A longstanding tradition of hazing, bullying, intimidation, harassment and physical assault by the dominant members of the team, mostly upperclassmen and team leaders, against the newer and younger members, who were called ‘pups’.”
This led to No. 4, the specific manner of alleged abuses, mentioned earlier.
The “PIYA” stick
No. 5 through No. 11 on the list of the complaint’s allegations addressed the “PIYA” stick, instrumental in the alleged hazing assaults. According to the complaint, the PIYA stick was displayed in an open locker near the West Valley High School football team’s locker-room entrance.
The PIYA stick, said the complaint, was comprised of a piece of PVC pipe with the approximate measurements of 2- to 3-feet long, and about 3/4- to 1-inch in diameter, with a tennis ball on one end, and exposed pipe on the other end.
The complaint referred to the secrecy surrounding the meaning of the PIYA stick:
” … the team knew that PIYA referred to female students’ genitalia,” explained the complaint, adding that the secrecy surrounding the PIYA stick’s meaning “contributed to a cult-like mentality where separation and isolation from others – but loyalty to the team – was paramount while anyone who dared to complain was punished.”
The complaint described in detail ways in which the PIYA stick was used in the alleged hazing assaults, and characterized its function as a “weapon of dominance and control by team leaders” upon other team members:
“During such an assault, multiple older boys would grab a player’s arms and legs, push him to the ground and hold him down with legs spread-eagle,” the complaint said.
“While in that position, the PIYA stick would be jabbed into the victim’s buttocks and rectal area. This typically happened over the victim’s underwear or gym shorts. Which end of the stick was used depended upon the whim and mood of the assailant wielding the stick. Needless to say, as the District (Anderson Union High School District) conceded after its own investigation, this ‘contact was not welcomed by the receiving player.’ ”
The complaint listed situations in which the PIYA stick might be brandished: “promotion to the varsity teams, when a ‘pup’ disrespected or upset an older team leader; or, when a ‘pup’ one-upped or threatened an upperclassman’s position on the team.”
According to the complaint, to avoid the risk of having the PIYA used against them, there were times when older players forced younger players to use the PIYA stick against other players.
“This is a common hazing strategy,” noted the complaint. “It creates a situation where the victim becomes the perpetrator, making it less likely they will disclose their own abuse.”
No. 12 through No. 22 of the filed complaint focused on defendants’ potential knowledge of the alleged hazing traditions.
Terms like “open secret” and “cover up” were used in the complaint to outline how the PIYA tradition at West Valley High School’s football program could continue unchecked for years. The complaint reported assertions of ignorance by Coach Grandell, as well as West Valley administrators and Anderson Union School District staff, all of whom claimed they were unaware of the alleged abuses until they were informed by law enforcement.
Even so, according to the complaint, the first of what would be two eventual turning points happened in June of 2019:
“A parent – who also happened to be a current law enforcement officer and former West Valley High School Football player – learned about this perverse, embarrassing and dangerous ritual from his son,” said the complaint.
“This parent sounded the alarm and reported the hazing to the school’s on-campus resource officer, who, in turn, raised the issue with then-head coach Greg Grandell.
But instead of acknowledging his parent’s concern for his son’s safety (and that of his teammates) Grandell launched a cover-up.
Hours later, Grandell held a team meeting where he stated he heard a rumor about PIYA, and if anyone was spreading rumors about, defaming or even discussing PIYA with anyone outside of the team, they would be kicked off the team. The student who complained about the ritual to his father understood this conversation as being a threat by Grandell for reporting the ritual and was discouraged from speaking about it any further for fear of retaliation.
Importantly, Grandell did not investigate. He told no one. He did nothing to stop it. That is, he took no steps to stop the sexual hazing, and protect his vulnerable young players. The PIYA stick remained in plain sight in the locker room. Grandell’s only reaction was his forceful, unequivocal threat of retribution against any player who talked publicly about PIYA.
So sexual hazing of new varsity team members continued.
However, the cover-up began to unravel more than a year later. The second turning point was an assault on John Doe #1 in August 2020. That assault was especially upsetting for his teammates. His assailants – the older, bigger varsity players – chased him down and dragged him to the locker room. The forceful takedown and attack was too much for the younger players who witnessed the hazing. Consequently, they defied Coach Grandell’s demand for secrecy. Four of them first told their parents, then they reported to law enforcement.
The four boys took that risk because it was the right thing to do. They wanted the abuse to stop, and to ensure other, younger players would not have to suffer like they did just to play the sport they loved.”
At that, the complaint moved on to No. 23 through No. 43, personal stories recounted by John Doe #1, John Doe #2, John Doe #3, and John Doe #4.
The stories are detailed and explicit. Excerpts include:
John Doe #1
” … John Doe #1 tried to fight back, but at least four upperclassmen pinned him down. The assailants pulled John Doe #1’s legs over his head, with his backside exposed. One assailant assaulted John Doe #1 with the PIYA stick, pushing it into his rectum several times over his clothes. John Doe #1 is sure he avoided penetration only because he clenched forcefully to prevent it. The assault still left him with abrasions and scratches.
“… John Doe #1 also saw players beat each other with their fists, and batter others with paddles. One player was bound with rope and his belongings stolen. Joe Doe #1 did not escape the constant humiliation: one time, a ‘teammate’ put a bag of feces in his locker.”
John Doe #2
” … those fears became a reality when at least five upperclassmen grabbed him while he was changing clothes in the team room. They then lifted him up so another teammate could stick one end of the PIYA stick, then another, into his rectum, over his clothes. … Despite his clothing, the force of the attack was sufficient to slightly penetrate his rectum.
Several days later, a team member grabbed John Doe #2 from behind while he was putting on his shorts in the changing room. That upperclassman gave him a ‘bear hug’ and ‘dry humped’ him from behind. John Doe #2 again tried to fight back, but the team leader was much stronger.”
John Doe #3
” … He even kept his birthday a secret after learning new varsity players got the PIYA stick as a perverse ‘present’ from upperclassmen.
But that strategy failed. … several older players cornered John Doe #3 in the team room and told him ‘today’ was his birthday. John Doe #3 knew what that meant and tried to escape. His teammates blocked the door, forcibly took hold of his arms and legs, pinned him to the ground, and pulled his legs apart. Another teammate then assaulted John Doe #3 by alternating pushing both ends of the PIYA stick into his rectum, over his clothes.
John Doe #4
” … he was a ‘pup’ on the team, he was aware of the PIYA stick tradition, and feared it would be used on him.
… several teammates grabbed him, took him to the ground, and forcibly pulled his legs apart. While in this position, another teammate assaulted John Doe #4 with the PIYA stick by jabbing it into his buttocks, over his clothes. After this incident, John Doe #4’s assailants labeled him ‘the team bitch’.
… On one occasion, several teammates held him down, while another rubbed his testicles in John Doe #4’s face.
… As a result, John Doe #4 was constantly terrorized by the possibility of another imminent attack.”
The complaint continued, and concludes with No. 44 through No. 49 titled, “Fallout, Retaliation & Damages”.
No. 49 gave an overview of the lives of John Doe # 1, John Doe #2, John Doe #3 and John Doe# 4, after they reported the alleged assaults at West Valley High School:
“Unfortunately, the plaintiffs did not feel any love from the West Valley community following disclosure. Instead, they were exposed to hatred and threats of physical harm. Therefore, all four plaintiffs left WVHS and transferred to other schools. In transition they suffered declining grades, emotional instability, depression, and feelings of anxiety, embarrassment, and stress.”
Click here for the story by Annelise Pierce, former reporter for A News Cafe.
Click here for 429 pages of documents from Anderson Union High School attorney Sophia V. Cohn: “Report of Investigation Findings and Notice of Dismissal of Title 1X Complaint” emailed more than a month following my original request for answers to seven questions I’d emailed to Victor Hopper, Superintendent of the Anderson High School District, regarding the West Valley High School football hazing allegations.