Bastress ... wrestling program head coach.
Bastress ... wrestling program head coach.

The highly successful York College wrestling program has been placed on "interim suspension" by the school.

According to a news release issued by York College late Wednesday afternoon, the suspension was because of activity that may have violated the student code of conduct and the student-athlete code of conduct, including hazing.

The decision to put the program on interim suspension was made late Wednesday by York College president Pamela Gunter-Smith, dean of student affairs Jon Merkle and assistant dean for athletics and recreation Paul Saikia.

Paul Saikia, assistant dean for athletics and recreation
Paul Saikia, assistant dean for athletics and recreation

"Ultimately it comes down to the safety and welfare of the student-athletes," Saikia said by phone Wednesday night. "In our opinion, it appeared as though it was a culture that had developed that we felt put some students in danger. We needed to, first and foremost, try to separate the situation from the team as we had a chance to investigate it."

Saikia said the violation in question is hazing. The school learned of the violation from an anonymous email received "a couple weeks ago" and has been investigating ever since, Saikia said.

"It wasn't until recently that we learned the extent of what we believe has occurred," he said.

Reached by phone Wednesday night, York College sophomore wrestler Korey Eberly said the hazing incident occurred recently.

"It just happened. It was a one-time event that is in question," said Eberly, a Red Lion grad who is taking a medical redshirt this year to recover from offseason shoulder surgery.

The release said that during the interim suspension, an investigation led by the office of campus safety and administrators at the college will continue. Individual students who are believed to be in violation of the college's student code of conduct and student-athlete code of conduct will be scheduled for judicial board hearings in the near future.

Saikia said the school is aiming to have the investigation completed by Nov. 8. The suspension puts all wrestling activities, including practice and matches, on hold, according to York College spokeswoman Mary Dolheimer.

As far as possible punishments for the violators, Dolheimer said it "depends on the violation and severity" of the violation, and that the student handbook includes suspension or expulsion for those who violate the school's student code of conduct and the student-athlete code of conduct.

The persons involved in the incident were not identified. The release went on to say that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects against the release of personally identifiable information derived from education records, including information regarding student disciplinary matters. At the conclusion of the investigation, the school said information will be provided regarding any further sanctions against the wrestling program.

Season on hold: York's season was scheduled to begin this Saturday at the Monarch Invitational Tournament at Wilkes University. However, that event was not listed on the team's online schedule Wednesday night and Dolheimer said the team will not be participating in the Monarch tournament. The York schedule now lists the team's first event of the 2013-14 season as the John Reese Duals at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre on Nov. 9.

The team had wrestle-offs -- an individual tournament among the team members to decide its 10 starters -- last Friday.

"A lot of the guys were looking forward to that (Monarch) tournament," Eberly said. "We were looking forward to get in competition against someone other than your teammates."

Eberly said the team was informed of the suspension by Saikia and Merkle at practice on Tuesday evening and did not practice Wednesday.

First-year head coach Duane Bastress could not be reached for comment. Bastress was a two-time NCAA Division III national champion in 2005 and 2006 while with the Spartans. The Bermudian Springs High School graduate had served as an assistant coach for the previous six seasons under longtime head coach Tom Kessler.

Kessler was a three-time National Wrestling Coaches Association Coach of the Year who compiled a 322-140-3 record in 23 seasons as head coach.

Bastress, 30, lives in Dover and works for River Rock Academy in Shiremanstown, where he is a behavior manager. River Rock provides alternative education services.

The Spartans return seven of 10 starters from last year's team that finished ranked No. 15 in the Division III coaches' poll.

-- Reach John Walk at jwalk@yorkdispatch.com.