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Four Blue Earth Area football players were allowed to play in a state playoff game earlier this month even after school officials learned they’d been accused of beating a teammate unconscious weeks before.

The district superintendent said Monday that it wouldn’t have been fair to bench the players based merely on accusations and before a thorough investigation was completed and the school had hard facts about the incident.

“We have to have facts to back up reports,” Superintendent Evan Gough said. “We have to have an investigation to find actual facts. You have to have eyewitness accounts to back up any reports. You have to have admissions of guilt, and video or photo evidence.

“An investigation is sometimes not an expedient process,” he added. “Our investigation had not uncovered those things.”

Days after Blue Earth lost to Pipestone in the state quarterfinals Nov. 10, authorities arrested four members of the Blue Earth team. All were charged last week with felonies ranging from assault to aiding and abetting. They beat a teammate so badly at a party after the team’s regular-season finale in mid-October that he briefly fell unconscious, according to police and court documents.

Despite suffering headaches in the days after the Oct. 19 incident, the 16-year-old victim kept the alleged beating a secret from his parents because he didn’t want to tell on his teammates. He was later diagnosed with primary and secondary concussions.

In a recent interview, the victim’s mother, Tonya Hurley, said she reported the alleged assault to school authorities immediately after she took her son to the doctor on Nov. 6, four days before the state playoff game.

She questioned why her son’s alleged attackers were allowed to play in the game while her son was sidelined because of his injuries.

The Blue Earth school board chairman agreed with her, while stressing that such matters are legally complicated.

“That’s the sticky wicket right there,” Frankie Bly said Monday. “The timing element and concrete evidence.”

Bly, also a former teacher in Blue Earth schools, was asked whether he would have benched the accused players for the playoff game if he were the football coach.

“I would be inclined to,” he said after a long pause. “Personally, having raised three kids, I’ve been there, I’ve done that.

“But hindsight is 20/20,” he added. “It’s one of those coulda, shoulda, woulda things.”

Bly said he’s “extremely frustrated” about the incident, calling it “a huge black eye” for the district.

“I haven’t slept well for a few days,” he said. “It’s so frustrating. And I know I can speak for some of my fellow board members.”

Bly said district officials will develop a plan to combat bullying and will be calling on parents to play a major role.

“We’re going to kind of put it back on the parents and say, ‘OK, folks — you’re the school. What do we need to do?’ ” Bly said.

“We’re not going to sweep it under the rug and say it’s going to be better,” he said. “We aren’t going to look the other way.”

John Reinan • 612-673-7402