The case of four county athletes who played in a club soccer tournament Monday was discussed in a meeting yesterday, but their fate was still unknown late last night.
Playing in the Washington Area GirlsSoccer League tournament Monday caused the athletes to miss school and practice, which violated a Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association rule stating that outside participation cannot conflict with high school practice or games.
Paul Rusko, acting county coordinator of physical education, and a committee of three athletic directors, three principals and a representative of the coaches association, met with the four girls -- two each from Meade and Chesapeake high schools -- their parents, coachesand principals to determine if sanctions for the violation would be made.
The committee can choose to suspend each of the girls from the sport for 60 school days or for this and the following school year. Meade coach John O'Neill and Chesapeake coach Lin Sullivan can be censured and declared ineligible to coach the sport for the current school year and also can be barred from coaching any other sport for the rest of the school year.
Late last night, O'Neill would not comment on the committee's hearing, and Sullivan could not be reached.
"They told us that they would let us know either late tonight or early tomorrow," said a parent of one of the girls. "But I feel that thegirls have been penalized enough. I feel that if the girls are goingto be penalized further, there should be penalties countywide and statewide. There were more than just these (four) girls involved here."
In all, 15 county girls from public schools participated in the tournament. The Meade players and one girl from Chesapeake played for the five-time State Cup champion Columbia-based Crusaders. The other Chesapeake girl played for the Coach Tom Ehart's Severna Park Alliance, along with 12 other county players.
Ehart's team is made up of 18 county players: seven from Severna Park High, four from St. Mary's, two from Old Mill, two from Archbishop Spalding and and one each from Broadneck, Chesapeake and North County.
"It's not a Chesapeake,Meade problem. It's a countywide, statewide problem," Sullivan said Tuesday. "There are team rules, county rules and state rules, and allof those need to be obeyed -- and obeyed by everybody. However, those rules have not been interpreted with consistency. Our goal is that there be some consistency."
The committee, said Rusko, was focusedprimarily on the girls who missed Monday's practice.
"There were kids from six schools that played in the tournament," Rusko said lastnight. "And in two schools -- Broadneck and Old Mill -- the kids made practice so we had no reason to bring them down here."
Rusko added, "I don't believe the rule is there to punish the kids for excelling in the sport, and this rule is not written for the elite athletes.It's not to limit or retard any youngsters' ability to move forward in a sport. WAGS is an excellent program, and I'm certain this tournament was an excellent opportunity for the kids. No one's putting thatdown."
Then Rusko created this hypothetical situation.
"If you're a parent and have a kid on the team and he's making every practice, and another, who's playing on an outside team in the same sport, only shows up for games (and starts), is that fair?" Rusko asked. "Therule is there to protect the majority of the kids and the integrity of a school team. We have to protect the kids in the school's program."
Sullivan said he didn't feel the girls hurt his program by playing in the tournament.
"The rule is there, the girls know it and they made a choice, although it was a very difficult choice," Sullivansaid Tuesday. "I don't like the idea that people who are supposed tocare about kids would have such conflicting policies and rules. If everyone is really interested in the girls, then somebody's going to have to start cutting somebody some slack here."
Two parents referred to the county's truancy rule as the reason their girls did not practice.
The rule states that an unexcused absence at any time during the week prior to an event results in an athlete being ineligible at least for the contest immediately following that truancy. If a player who competes is subsequently found to be ineligible, then the teammay have to forfeit all of the games involving the player.
The tournament, played on Columbus Day in Northern Virginia, is geared for Virginia schools, which, unlike Maryland schools, had the day off. Virginia, whose high schools play soccer in the spring, has a rule prohibiting the playing of both club and high school soccer during the same season, a rule abolished in Maryland "about 10 years ago," Rusko said.
"Most Maryland club teams elect to continue playing in the fall because Virginia teams are more competitive," said Roy Andersch, coach of the Columbia Crusaders.