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Juveniles charged in 4-H camp brawls

Friday, July 25, 2003

ROCKY MOUNT, Va. -- Three teenage counselors at a 4-H camp were charged Thursday with child abuse, disorderly conduct and assault for allegedly forcing young campers into organized bare-knuckle fights, then charging admission to the brawls and allowing betting.

Franklin County prosecutor Cliff Hapgood said 24 felony and 34 misdemeanor counts were filed in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court against two 15-year-old boys and one 16-year-old boy who worked at the camp from June 30 to July 4 near Smith Mountain Lake.

Hapgood said the counselors helped organize fights for two days inside one of the camp dormitories that involved eight boys between the ages of 10 and 12. The counselors, who come from Bedford, Pittsylvania and Halifax counties, were not identified because of their ages.

Sheriff Quint Overton, who completed his investigation into the alleged camp fights on Friday, said other campers were charged $1 for admission, and the counselors and children bet up to $4 per fight.

"There was just a lack of supervision down there," Overton said of the 4-H camp. "You can't have juveniles supervising juveniles."

By the time the campers left for home, several had black eyes and one had broken his hand as a result of the fights, Overton said.

Under investigation

Hapgood would not comment about whether any of the adults at camp witnessed the fights. He said investigators are still looking into the role two adult counselors may have had in the brawls, but so far it doesn't seem any adult assaulted any camper.

In all, about 300 children aged 9 to 13 attended the camp. They were supervised by 22 adult volunteers and extension staff, 50 teen counselor volunteers from Bedford and Halifax counties and permanent summer camp staff. At night, the camp ground was patrolled by a watchman and extension agents.

Virginia Tech, which oversees the state 4-H program with Virginia State University, acknowledged on Tuesday that the fights did occur. Spokesman Charlie Stott said investigators told the 4-H that numerous campers spoke of seeing the arranged brawls.

The counselors attended previous 4-H camps, but Hapgood said he hasn't heard of any previous fighting incidents. They have since been suspended by the 4-H, and security has been bolstered at all six 4-H centers in Virginia.

Authorities learned about the fights when the father of one camper called to complain about his son returning home with a black eye.

Richard Rawls said his 11-year-old was forced to defend himself five times during the five-day camp. When D.J. Rawls was knocked out the day before the end of camp, counselors told him to tell his parents that he was hit with a basketball, Richard Rawls said.

Rawls, who has been asking for an apology from the counselors since the camp ended, was surprised at the result of the sheriff's investigation.

"I had no idea they were going to charge them with all of that," Rawls said Thursday. "Their investigation must have yielded a lot more than what I told them."

Rawls said his son was taken to a doctor after camp and treated for a concussion he got the week before. Rawls also visited 4-H officials in Roanoke to talk about the alleged camp fights.


On the Net

  • National 4-H: www.national4-hheadquarters.gov

  • Virginia Cooperative Extension: www.ext.vt.edu/resources/


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