The Leader's front page story on Wheaton College from our September 26th issue made it onto Yahoo! Sports as well as the Bernstein and Goff show on 670 the Score! Listen and read below:
In the first game since five team members were arrested for felony charges related to alleged hazing, Wheaton College players and fans showed support for the accused on Saturday in a game at EC.
Senior All-American tight end Zach Lindquist, one of Wheaton’s captains, wore the numbers 5, 37, 63, 77, and 96 (the uniform numbers of the five accused players) on his arm throughout the game and was seen raising five fingers towards the sky after scoring a touchdown.
The five players, Noah Spielman (5), Samuel TeBos (37), Kyler Kregel (63), Benjamin Pettway (77) and James Cooksey (96), were issued arrest warrants for felony counts of aggravated battery, unlawful restraint and mob action on Monday, Sept. 19. Back in 2016, the players allegedly kidnapped a freshman team member from his dorm room, bound him with duct tape and abandoned him at a baseball diamond.
Various other players were seen sporting tributes as well, including senior running back Sola Olateju (who wore 5, 77, and 96), senior defensive lineman Theo Selvaggio (who wore the initials JC and BP, referencing Cooksey and Pettway) and senior defensive back Joe Nussbaum (who wore 63 and 77).
In addition to the support shown by players, fans of the team put on both symbolic and vocal displays about the scandal.
Supporters greeted the Thunder as they entered the field with signs reading: “Don’t Flinch,” “Never Forget” and “We [Heart] Wheaton Football.”
Jeff Peterson, parent of sophomore quarterback Spencer Peterson, led a pregame prayer circle asking for the exoneration of the accused players.
“It’s not criminal activity,” said the elder Peterson regarding the hazing.
“[Hazing is] not right in today’s world,” he continued, “and I think we all look at it and say, ‘that probably oughta stop.’ But these very aggressive charges that have been brought against these five players, I think those of us who have been close to the football program and understand the context of what was done were saying, ‘no, that’s not what happened.’”
Spencer declined to speak about the scandal, as instructed by head coach Mike Swider.
“It’s not criminal activity.”
- Jeff Peterson, Wheaton College football parent
Despite the criminal charges, Jeff Peterson feels strongly about the tradition of Wheaton football.
“What these guys did, what we understand they did, is something that’s been a tradition for the football team. I have two sons who have played football here and they’ve both gone through essentially the same thing,” said Peterson before adding that he has “no reservation whatsoever about having [his] current son continue in the program and if [he has] another one, having him go through it too.”
Wheaton freshman running back TJ Williams mentioned that the support his team has received from its fans has helped them stay strong around campus.
“We love Wheaton football. We put the game before ourselves. We [are] never selfish. So that’s what keeps us together,” said Williams. “We’ll be okay as long as we have our brotherhood and people to support us that go to our college.”
“We’ll be okay as long as we have our brotherhood and people to support us that go to our college.”
- TJ Williams, Wheaton freshman running back
While the team has seen support on the field, Jeff Peterson feels that players are being misrepresented around campus.
“It’s created a situation where they feel like they’re second class citizens on campus because everybody is treating them, all of them, as if they’ve done the same thing [as] the five players who have been accused.”
In spite of being looked at differently on campus, the team has become closer, according to Peterson.
“It is bringing them together,” he said. “They’re playing for the college, they’re playing for themselves, and they’re playing for their five teammates.”