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Posted Thursday, Mar. 31, 2011  Print Reprints

Western Hills baseball players accused of chicken sacrifice

BENBROOK -- Reports that two Western Hills High School baseball players killed baby chicks as part of superstitious ritual to improve their game have received international media attention from as far away as Australia and prompted an animal rights group to reach out to the school.

Benbrook Police Sgt. John Van Ness confirmed Thursday that authorities have charged the two players with cruelty to livestock animals. He said the case has been turned over to the Tarrant County Juvenile Court where a decision will be made on whether to prosecute the two players, ages 15 and 16.

Police say the players were “engaged in acts that caused the death of two baby chickens. It appears that superstition relating to a slump in baseball performance could have played a part.”

Police did not identify the teens because they are juveniles.

In this case, the animal cruelty charge is a state jail felony punishable by 180 days to two years in jail and can include a fine not to exceed $10,000, Van Ness said.

Van Ness said a baby chick was decapitated March 17 behind the school’s baseball fields and then another one killed the same way March 18. Fort Worth school district officials alerted police to the incident last week. Van Ness said the students have been cooperating with the investigation.

The two players were kicked off the team for the rest of the year and disciplined by the district, school officials said.

Western Hills is 7-15 overall and 3-2 in District 6-4A. The Cougars have gone 2-1 since the incident, including Wednesday night’s 11-1 victory over Southwest High School. Fort Worth Dunbar plays at Western Hills.

News of the sacrificial rituals spread across the Internet on Thursday, including media outlets as far away as Australia. Websites such as The Huffington Post and SI.com picked up the story, and a Web producer tweeted that “this is definitely the oddest story I’ve come across” in the six years he’s been at SI.com.

Meanwhile, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals reached out to Western Hills, offering and encouraging administrators to help with animal education issues. It also encouraged the school to form an animal rights club on campus.

“It’s necessary to address problems like this,” said Elizabeth Graffeo, who runs a school education program for PETA. “The alleged killings of chickens in this way can’t go without message from school. It is important that animals must be treated with compassion.”

Principal James Wellman is reviewing PETA’s material as he explores ways to address the incident, which could also include working with a local group or student leaders, district spokesman Clint Bond said.

This is the second incident in recent months involving Fort Worth school district students and chickens. In January, baby chicks and live fish were thrown during a pep rally at North Side High School. Bond said five students were disciplined in that incident.

Bond said a districtwide initiative on animal cruelty isn’t necessary because the two incidents were isolated and unrelated.

“As a district, we don’t condone this kind of behavior,” Bond said. “That’s why these students have been disciplined, severely disciplined in the Western Hills case. Our school district is not rampant with animal abuse.”

Bond said the two cases are examples of how some youths may not fully understand what the consequences of their actions are.

“We all wish it would have been a bucket of fried chicken like it was in the movie Major League,” Bonds said.

In that movie, a baseball player wants to sacrifice a live chicken to end a hitting slump, but teammates brought him fried chicken instead.

Western Hills baseball Coach Bobby McIntire said Wednesday that movies such as Major League and Bull Durham may have inspired the players but that he had not had a chance to talk to the teens yet.

Staff writer Drew Davison contributed to this report.

Eva-Marie Ayala, 817-390-7700