Four starting soccer players, who had been suspended from high school play for 30 days after being caught with alcohol at a school dance Sept. 14, have been reinstated to their teams following an appeal to Howard County School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey.
The four boys, from Oakland Mills and Centennial high schools, claimed they had never been informed about a drug and alcohol policy the school district adopted last February. The policy mandates an immediate 30-day suspension from extracurricular activities if students are caught on school grounds with alcohol or illegal drugs.
The four athletes returned to team play Monday.
School spokeswoman Patti Vierkant called the problem an "administrative oversight." Principals at Oakland Mills and Centennial high schools failed to notify students of the change in policy, she said.
"The students were not aware that they'd be suspended for 30 days," Vierkant said. The old policy did not require such a suspension -- and it was the old policy that was distributed to students this year, she said.
Neither principal -- Sue Ann Tabler of Oakland Mills and Sylvia Pattillo of Centennial -- would comment on the ruling.
The students -- Mike Fitzgibbon, Ryan Burke and Dan Bickell of Oakland Mills and Rogers Lewis of Centennial -- are all starting players on their respective soccer teams.
Oakland Mills, ranked No. 1 in the Baltimore area by The Sun, was the preseason pick to be the best team in the state this year. But following the suspensions of the three players, the Scorpions lost their next game to Bowie, 2-0.
Oakland Mills rebounded to beat Bel Air and Kennedy without the trio, and is now 4-1 as it prepares to open the league season at Howard at 6 p.m.
Howard, the defending state Class 3A co-champion, is undefeated (5-0) and ranked No. 2 in the area, making Friday's game one of the most important of the year.
Oakland Mills coach Don Shea would not say if the three players will be starting against Howard.
"All I can say is that I have been directed to place them back on the team as players by my principal. I was told that any punishment they have coming has been dealt with by the school system," Shea said.
Shea, prior to this incident, had established a policy banning athletes from team play for the rest of the year if they were caught with drugs or alcohol.
But director of high schools Daniel Jett, who heard the appeal for Dr.
Hickey, said that coaches may not have a stricter policy than the one adopted by the school system. Shea and other coaches must now follow the penalties outlined in districtwide policies, he said.
"If the board speaks to an issue, then no one in the organization has the legal right to supersede the decision of the board," Jett said.
He said that this also applies to coaches who force their athletes to maintain higher academic averages than the minimums established by the board for extracurricular eligibility.
Centennial coach Bill Stara, whose undefeated (4-0) team is ranked No.
3 in Baltimore by The Sun, said he had no comment on the situation.