When Do Coaches Cross the Bounds?I was quite dismayed to...


November 15, 1992

When Do Coaches Cross the Bounds?

I was quite dismayed to read the report in The Sun Oct. 25 about the Westminster High School football coach who has been charged with criminal battery. The coach, Jeff Oeming; his attorney, and school officials seem to have taken a "boys will be boys" attitude toward a very serious incident, to which the attorney commented: "The entire matter appears to be a misunderstanding, and it doesn't belong in criminal courts. I believe that if the incident had been properly handled, it never would have been sent to the criminal court system."

There seems to be no "misunderstanding" that a physical encounter took place between the coach and one of his star football players, who was reportedly thrown to the ground and briefly pinned there by the coach. It also appears that this action was taken by the coach for reasons of anger and/or disciplinary action; there was no suggestion that the coach was acting in self-defense.

Any time an adult in charge manhandles a juvenile without provocation -- an insulting word or gesture is not sufficient provocation -- that adult is guilty of battery. Especially in this situation, where the coach had other disciplinary options available to him (sending the player to the principal, meeting with the player's parents, kicking the player off the team, etc.)

The attorney, Thomas Morrow, further stated: "There is a certain assumption that if you're a football player, contact will occur not only among players but sometimes between players and the coach." Who makes such an assumption? As a parent of a high school athlete, I would "assume" that any physical contact between a player and a coach would take the form of a pat on the back for a job well done, a touch on the arm to get the player's attention, a slight nudge when the coach is demonstrating a play or move, a helping hand if the player is injured, etc. Never would I assume that it's OK for a coach to throw a player to the ground and pin him there out of anger or as retaliation.

It was also stated that following the incident, the player and his father met with a number of school officials to discuss the "problem." Was the player's attorney present also? If not, then it seems that the player and his father were outnumbered in a room full of people whose probable mission was to avoid liability by downplaying the incident.

William Rooney, personnel director for the school system, even stated: "As far as we're concerned, it's a personal dispute between the student and the coach." How's that for ducking the issue of responsibility? And shortly thereafter, Mr. Oeming commented: "There was a problem, but we've got it straightened out." Obviously, he was wrong.

A coach is hired to lead his players and to "teach" them the proper way to play the sport. He is furthermore expected to be a role model for the athletes, encouraging them to emulate him in playing the sport and behaving in a good sportsman-like manner while doing so.

A coach represents himself and those people who hired him when he is working with his players. He therefore makes himself and his employers liable for civil and/or criminal actions when he behaves in an improper manner. If school officials had made this point clear to the coach and made sure that appropriate steps were taken to reassure the player and his family that this was an isolated incident and would not happen again (perhaps a sincere apology from both the coach and the player would have helped), then the matter perhaps would never have been sent to court.

No matter what the finding of the court, if school officials determine that Mr. Oeming acted in a violent and improper manner toward a student, thereby making himself and the school system liable for civil and/or criminal action, then Mr. Oeming should be fired.

The school board should also make sure that all school personnel who have contact with students know what constitutes proper disciplinary action and what does not.

Linda Bowen


Hitting Agriculture

In recent months, the state of Maryland has seen fit to close down the purchase of development rights on agricultural land. This was a program which had broad support from citizens statewide and which was perceived as having long-term economic and environmental benefits.

I would not argue that this program should not stand its share of cuts given the economy of the state. However, to totally wipe it out seems shortsighted.

Now I understand that the Extension Service is due for drastic cuts and possibly it will be folded into some other agency. Farmers all over the country and in Maryland have been able to provide top quality food at a price other countries envy. One of the factors that makes this possible is the research and experimental assistance provided by the Extension Service.

I believe the state would have a difficult time coming up with the name of an industry in Maryland that has been as efficient as agriculture. Why the state wishes to hit agriculture so hard is difficult to understand.

Ridgely Jones



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