Two-time defending state champion Warren De La Salle on Thursday abruptly canceled its football playoff game against Birmingham Groves, after an alleged hazing incident that the school said involved varsity football players.
According to a statement from the school, issued Thursday night:
"This week, officials at the all-boys high school became aware of a hazing incident that involved the varsity football team and its players. Upon an initial investigation by school administration, it appears that the hazing has deeper roots, and is more pervasive than originally thought."
“De La Salle Collegiate is a Lasallian Catholic school. We uphold values of human dignity, good sportsmanship, and respect for all,” De La Salle president John M. Knight said in the statement. “At this time, as we continue our investigation, the school leadership feels that it best that we take a step back from the field of competition. We do so with sadness, but also with a heart and mind and spirit determined to do what is right. What is right for our young men. What is right for our community. And what is right according to our Lasallian Catholic values.”
Knight didn't immediately return a phone call or an email from The Detroit News. Head coach DeLaSalle head coach Mike Giannone also didn't return a call for comment.
The Warren Police Department told The News that no report has been filed involving a hazing incident at the school, but that the department is looking into the matter.
On Friday, the school said it was cancelling classes for the day in response to an unspecified threat. It did not link the threat to the announcement about the football playoff game. A second Metro Detroit Catholic high school, Bishop Foley, has stepped up security as a precaution though it didn't receive a threat specifically directed toward the school.
Groves coach Brendan Flaherty said his team is looking forward to playing De La Salle at home after De La Salle defeated Groves, 28-0, in a state semifinal last year.
Flaherty was getting ready for practice Thursday afternoon when his athletic director pulled him from a coaches’ meeting at 3 p.m. and told him of the news.
“You can only control what you can control so there’s nothing we can do,” said Flaherty, who plans to attend the Sterling Heights at Birmingham Seaholm game since Groves will play the winner in next week’s district final.
“To be honest with you, I’ve never had anything like this, we’re still kind of in shock, like I’m sure they are,. I feel awful for them, for Coach (Giannone) and what’s going on with them. They have to be going crazy. I feel awful for their kids. I don’t know the details."
When told it was alleged hazing, Flaherty replied: “Well you know we’re in the teen-age business and teen-age kids do dumb stuff all the time. Kids just do dumb stuff."
De La Salle got into the playoffs wth a 5-4 record, after winning Division 2 state championships in 2017 and 2018.
The playoff opener was to be at Birmingham Groves (7-2) at 7 Friday night.
MHSAA spokesman John Johnson said Thursday, "They notified us this afternoon that they were withdrawing from the tournament.”
Giannone is widely considered one of the best coaches in the state, leading Macomb Dakota to a 158-51 record in 18 years there, including 15 consecutive state playoff appearances (2001-15) and Division 1 state championships in 2006 and ’07. He took the head-coaching job at De La Salle prior to the 2016 season. He's closing in on his 200th career win (191-64 in 22 years).
George Hunter and Tony Paul contributed to this report.