Four county athletes could face penalties for playing in a girls club soccer tournament Monday, even though other participants from Anne Arundel and Howard counties continue to compete for their high schools.
Several area club teams competed in the Washington Area Girls Soccer League Tournament in Virginia, which concluded Monday, causing the athletes to miss school or practice. A Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association rule states that outside participation cannot conflict with high school practice or games.
Three of the four girls played with the Columbia-based Crusaders;the other played for Severna Park Alliance coach Tom Ehart. Two of the players compete for Meade High and two for No. 6-ranked ChesapeakeHigh. When the two teams played Tuesday, the four girls watched in street clothes.
"I'm fairly aware that other schools are involved -- we have talked to five high schools and there were a lot of different reasonings," said Paul Rusko, acting coordinator of physical education. "The fact is, I don't know how many girls were there (at the tournament), but we should know more as things unfold."
Because of anew attendance policy in Howard County, its athletes who played in the tournament -- including several members of the Crusaders' squad --were not penalized.
The policy allows parents to provide five excused absences for their children, provided they give two weeks' written notice. Howard County School Superintendent Michael Hickey and theschool board agreed that the soccer tournament fit those guidelines.
"Everybody that we know has been checked out," said Don Disney, the county's supervisor of athletics.
Asked if he would deem playing in the tournament a viable excuse for missing school, Rusko said, "Personally, I probably would not."
Neither did Chesapeake Principal Harry Calender, who informed Rusko of the possibility of a problem Monday morning.
Calender then told Cougars coach Lin Sullivan justbefore the end of the school day that he should not allow his players to compete against Meade. Rusko said Meade principal Stanley Stawaslikewise was advised about the two Mustangs players.
"The girls were here (in school), and I talked to both of the girls before practice," Sullivan said. "But our school rules say that if you're not herein school all day, then you don't practice unless it's extraordinarycircumstances where this is something that has the approval of the principal. They were here and could have been on the field would it not have been for the principal.
"I was under the impression that that was a county policy as far as school rules and practices, but again, you don't necessarily have consistency, and all schools aren't handling this the same. But there needs to be (consistency), and hopefully as a result of this (there will be)."
When Ehart, an assistant coach at St. Mary's, formed the Maryland Alliance under-19 squad thispast summer, the team consisted of 18 of Anne Arundel County's best players.
Seven of the 18 came from Severna Park, four from St. Mary's, two from Old Mill, two from Archbishop Spalding and one each from Broadneck, Chesapeake and North County.
Ehart didn't anticipate his team -- now called the Severna Park Alliance -- going 5-0 (10-0-2overall) and winning the B Division championship of the WAGS tournament.
"After the semifinals, everyone knew that the championship game was on Monday. I told the parents and the kids what they were risking if they played and that the decision was in their hands," said Ehart. "I just so happens that all 18 of them showed up on Monday."
Severna Park coach Joyce Stefancik said she "had no idea" whether herplayers were excused from school to play but said "obviously, I'm concerned."
Stefancik said she announced last Thursday that she would not conduct practice Friday or Monday, citing injuries to several players with big games looming against Chesapeake today and Old Mill Tuesday.
Both of Old Mill's players made it to their practice.
Seven of Stefancik's players were in the tournament on Monday, and at least two of those players scored goals in Severna Park's 5-0 victoryover Glen Burnie on Tuesday. One of the Old Mill girls scored in thePatriots' 9-0 win over Annapolis.
Stefancik, who teaches at Magothy River Middle School, said, "I don't know who attended the tournament, but my understanding is that you cannot miss practice to play in a soccer event outside of school."
Rusko said, "No one we have contacted has denied playing, but there are different circumstances. We are dealing primarily with the part of the rule concerning the missing of practice, but we also have a truancy rule."
The county's truancy rule states that an unexcused absence at any time during the weekprior to an event results in an athlete being ineligible at least for the contest immediately following the truancy.
If a player who competes is found to have been ineligible, then the team may have to forfeit all of the games involving the player, Rusko said.
The teamalso may be placed on probation, thus forfeiting post-season play. Rusko said he advised the principals to keep the four girls out of thegame "just to be safe."
"We don't have a list of things that would be considered legitimate excuses," said Rusko.
"The schools haveto determine the reasons for the absences. School by school, they will have to determine whether the excuses were legitimate or illegal."
Rusko will meet today with a committee of three principals, threeathletic directors and a representative of the coaches association to determine if sanctions for the violation will be made.
Rick Belzcontributed to this story