Safford football team moving forward from camp incident

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: The Safford football team is moving on from its camp incident and looking forward to having a successful football season.

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – The Safford Bulldogs will field a football team this season and will likely use the adversity stemming from the inappropriate conduct of some of its players during camp as motivation to come together as a team.

The incident occurred in June during the team’s camp in the White Mountains and involved players holding down one player while repeatedly punching him on his chest, back, and abdomen areas while laughing. The action was allegedly the result of a team rule made by the players that anyone who passed gas would be removed from the tent and would only be allowed back in if they submitted to the lashing. Coaches were not present during the “assault” and were reportedly not privy to the situation. 

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: Safford head football coach Eric Hjalmerson.

The incident came to light after cell phone video was given to Phoenix television NBC affiliate 12 News, which then ran a feature on it. The initial video report can be seen by clicking here

The Pinetop-Lakeside Police Department investigated the situation as a possible hazing incident and submitted its finding to the Navajo County Attorney’s Office, which has yet to formally charge anyone in the case. The police report also remains sealed until the Navajo County Attorney’s Office makes its decision on how to proceed. On Tuesday, a representative of the Pinetop-Lakeside Police Department told the Gila Herald that the case was still under investigation.  

While the criminality of the action of a couple of members of the team is still in question, Safford Director of Instructional Services A.J. Taylor told the Gila Herald that the school has “investigated and taken appropriate action.” Whether that means the offending players have been suspended or removed from the team entirely was not clarified. The school did cancel a second football camp that was to take place in California. According to the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA), the Bulldogs are scheduled to open their football season at home Aug. 23 against the Snowflake Lobos.  

On Tuesday, Taylor advised second-year head football coach Eric Hjalmerson, who was not seen during a parents- and students-only informative meeting regarding the incident after the news came to light, was still with the program.

“With regard to the investigation into SHS football, no removals have been issued,” Taylor wrote in an e-mail to the Gila Herald. “We have administered a varying degree of suspensions and other disciplinary consequences. The district will not release more specific details.”

Taylor advised that the school will take advantage of training offered by the National Federation of High Schools to help ensure such an action is not repeated. 

“We will continue to train and educate staff, students, and parents about behavior expectations, the law, and good athletic sportsmanship,” Taylor wrote in his e-mail. 

Safford Football Schedule per AIA

Aug. 23 versus Snowflake Lobos

Sept. 6 at Wickenburg Wranglers

Sept. 13 at Thatcher Eagles

Sept. 20 versus Show Low Cougars

Sept. 27 versus Florence Gophers

Oct. 4 versus Sahuarita Mustangs

Oct. 11 at Catalina Trojans

Oct. 18 at Tanque Verde Hawks

Oct. 25 versus Pusch Ridge Lions

Nov. 1 at Sabino Sabercats

• All games start at 7 p.m.

This article was updated at 11:15 on Tuesday to add A.J. Taylor’s comments regarding Safford head football coach Eric Hjalmerson’s position.