"It feels like someone just kicked me in the chest," said John O'Neill, three hours after being told that his third season coaching Meade's girls soccer team was over with two games left.
"It's a very deep cut, and I have so many emotions. The saddest part is that I didn't want to bring any controversy to the school and that's what developed as a result of this."
Yesterday afternoon, a committee of principals, athletic directors and Board of Education officials found that O'Neill violated a Maryland Public Secondary Schools Association rule that states that outside participation in a sport cannot conflict with high school practices or games involving the same sport.
They determined that O'Neill knowingly allowed striker Amanda Simmons and defender Kelly Dryden to compete on the Columbia-based Crusaders team in the Washington Area Girls Soccer Tournament Oct. 11-14 in Northern Virginia.
The tournament, considered America's largest club soccer tournament, played its championship games on Monday, forcing the girls to miss school, and they also did not participate in the afternoon practice.
The rule states that the violating coach can be censured, suspended for the remainder of the school year (as O'Neill was) or suspended from coaching any other sport at his school for that year. His players could have been suspended for 60 days or for the remainder of this and the following season.
Simmons, Dryden and Chesapeake's Allison Nethan, also a Crusaders player, were cleared of any violations of the rule on Friday. So was Chesapeake junior Denise Perrone, one of 11 county public school players on the Severna Park Alliance club that won a WAGS tournament championship game Monday.
O'Neill and Chesapeake coach Lin Sullivan were told by their principals -- on advice from acting coordinator of physical education Paul Rusko -- to not allow the four players to play in the Oct. 15 Chesapeake-Meade game. The Cougars won, 5-1.
Although his two players who were involved both missed practice, Chesapeake coach Lin Sullivan was not penalized.
Director of Secondary Schools Shirley
Hicks, who presided over the hearing, could not be reached for comment. Rusko would not comment on the proceedings.
But O'Neill, referring to his letter of censure, said: "It says that I testified regarding my knowledge of the rule and that in spite of the existence of the rule and its inherent restrictions, I did not advise the players of the rule. My responsibility is to abide by and enforce these rules."
Also appearing before the board was Severna Park coach Joyce Stefancik and North County coach Marianne Shultz.
Stefancik, who has seven players on the Alliance squad, and Shultz, who has one, did not conduct practice last Monday but were not found to have violated a county rule that states "It is expected that high school teams conduct practice for all members or engage in competition every day school is in session during the sports season."
Shultz cited a faculty meeting as her reason for not conducting practice. Stefancik testified that she announced Oct. 10 the cancellations of that Friday's and Monday's practices. A teacher at Magothy River Middle School, Stefancik cited her child's 2:30 p.m. doctor's appointment Friday and a 2:30 p.m. departmental meeting Monday as well as homecoming weekend and injuries to several players.
"By playing soccer on Saturday and Sunday and since I did nothold practice, the girls did not conflict with the rule. But I'd put my foot down if it did [conflict with the Severna Park program]," said Stefancik, who is in her 13th season.
"I know that the committee is trying to uphold a state ruling and it's unfortunate about the surrounding circumstances. I don't know how the rule should be modified, but as a coach, I'd like to reserve the right to decide when I can hold practice and when to give the kids some time off."
O'Neill's options include appealing to MPSSAA Executive Secretary Ned Sparks, which he said he plans to do.
"I feel like I was acting in the best interests of my players. Those two girls are fine students and they had an opportunity to be looked at by several college scouts," said O'Neill.
O'Neill, who teaches art at Meade, watched Simmons set the county's career goal scoring record with 78 goals this year.
"For them, nothing but good has come out of it," he said. "And when I went before the committee, I was forthright, honest and I did not lie."
The 4-6 Mustangs have a game against Annapolis today and against Glen Burnie on Friday. Asked how he would continue to support his former team, O'Neill said, "They said I couldn't coach, but I've still got a pass to get into the stadium."