Girl Fight: Savagery In The Chicago Suburbs

Tracey figured she was tough enough for a little hazing. It was a tradition of the "powder puff" football game for girls at upscale Glenbrook North High School outside Chicago. Maybe the seniors would put a little ketchup in her hair, or smear her with whipped cream. It was the price of being a junior.

But when she stepped out of the car a week ago Sunday at the Cook County Forest Preserve, wearing a jersey she bought for the game, a bucket was put over Tracey's head. She was led to a field and forced to her knees. Somebody jammed coffee grounds into her ears. And then--while other girls in the field were being pushed and kicked, and splattered with paint, human feces and pig guts--somebody started hammering the bucket with a baseball bat. Tracey (not her real name) lost consciousness for more than two minutes, her parents say, sustaining a severe concussion. All the while, a crowd of beer-swilling students watched and cheered the vicious display. At one point, while Tracey's bucketed head was being slammed with the bat, somebody called out, "That's not her," and a voice responded, "Oh, this is the wrong bitch?"

Nobody expects teenagers to act like savages, least of all girls from a fancy school that boasts superb test scores and championship debate teams. But when it was over, five girls required hospital care; one with a broken ankle, another needing at least 10 stitches in her scalp. When a videotape of the brutality was passed on to cable television, the ugly incident went international. Many of the students could face criminal charges, according to Mike Green, Northbrook Police deputy chief. School officials are examining the tape, identifying the attackers and barring them from some extracurricular activities. The tape also shows some teenagers trying to stop the violence. One group is seen huddling around an injured girl, trying to lead her away from the mayhem. According to unwritten rules of the ritual, nothing can be put in the girls' mouths, and boys are not allowed to join in. Those rules were not observed.

About 50 junior and senior girls participated in the powder-puff incident, once an innocent homecoming farce supervised by the school. Perhaps another 50 students watched it happen. Rollin Soskin, a lawyer who represents several of the victims, says he may file lawsuits against the attackers for injuries and emotional distress. He is also pondering whether Glenbrook North officials--who stress the incident happened away from school grounds--should have known what was coming. Police are also probing reports that one parent supplied the beer for the "game" and another provided the pig parts.

Tracey's parents, who agreed to talk to NEWSWEEK on the condition that their names not be used, say the victims were threatened with more violence if they left the field--and were subjected to taunting by some seniors at school afterward, who called them "wimps" and "sluts." Her parents say Tracey still seems lackadaisical. She might need to see a neurologist. "She's not right yet," says her father, "yet hopefully, with time, she will be."

Mike Riggle, the school principal, said the torture might have its roots in grudges. "What we are hearing is that there may have been old scores to settle," he said. A Glenbrook North senior named Danny says it involved jealousy over boyfriends dating back to junior high. Whatever the reason for the beatings, the juniors submitted to the punishment, he says, "for social acceptance." It was one group of popular girls christening the next class. A year ago the senior girls had been roughed up--a videotape of last year's game shows some violence, though not on this scale. Now it was their turn to act like bullies.

With the town and school facing scorn, village president Mark Damisch called for perspective. "These kids were goofs," he says. "This is not a morality tale for all of Western civilization. This is about a group of kids who made bad judgments."

It is also about a girl, like Tracey, whose parents have been thinking about pulling her out of school. She's seeing a counselor at Glenbrook, and is still suffering headaches and memory loss. Her folks hope the damage will not be more serious than that.