Adults abet competition of the rankest sort

MICHAEL OLESKER

June 06, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Amanda White has had everything a young person could want.

Almost.

She's had a straight-A academic average at Dulaney High, a spectacular track and swimming career, and after graduation today she'll attend Stanford University in the fall.

The only thing she's missed is the thing she can no longer get back.

It's called her youth.

Who's to blame? Line up a bizarre set of suspects: There's her father, Stan White, the former Baltimore Colt linebacker who appears now to have played too many football games without a helmet.

There's Dr. Stuart Berger, the Baltimore County school superintendent who appears now to have played too many academic games without a brain.

As detailed by Sun reporters Frank Roylance and Mary Maushard, White and Berger misguided a couple of high school girls -- Amanda White and Angela Lee -- through an academic competition that got pitifully out of hand, and it ended with both girls feeling intense pressure and Stan White filing a lawsuit to force Dulaney High to name his daughter co-valedictorian of her class.

Otherwise, said his suit, Amanda would suffer ''severe, immediate and irreparable damage'' -- as if such effects haven't already been assured.

In Circuit Court, fortunately, there was Baltimore County Judge Joseph F. Murphy. In polite legal language, he told every adult in the place to go home and stop behaving like children.

Too bad nobody let the children behave like children.

Instead of letting two bright kids relish the sheer joy of learning, we have a story of ferocious academic rivalry being guided by people who should know better.

Start with the lawsuit, filed last week by White and then withdrawn when Judge Murphy withheld every instinct to laugh out loud and simply said his court had no jurisdiction. The suit declared that Superintendent Berger had a secret meeting last fall where Amanda White received special permission to go to night school.

Question: Why would a straight-A student, already pushing herself to the limit with studies and with swimming and track, want night school instead of having a life?

Why, to take a music perspective course that would give her enough extra credits to assure a No. 1 class ranking, that's why.

But wait, it gets more sinister. The suit says Dr. Berger agreed to keep the information secret from Angela Lee, so that Angela wouldn't take a night school course of her own, and grab back the No. 1 standing.

But then Berger talked it over with some wiser heads -- not too difficult for him to find those -- and Angela Lee was given special permission to take a night school course of her own.

According to Stan White's lawsuit, this night school business wasn't his fault. It was set off, he said, because Angela Lee had done something behind everybody's back: In an effort to gain ''quality points,'' she'd gone to a special summer school class last year.

And she did this after Amanda White had been told not to bother with summer school.

This, apparently, was an unthinkable blunder by an adviser who thought Amanda had a strong enough average and should simply enjoy her summer vacation, if you can imagine such a thought for a teen-ager.

When Stan White and his wife discovered this outrage against their daughter, they commenced a series of angry meetings with school officials, followed by the lawsuit.

Last Thursday night, when their efforts had failed and Angela Lee received the valedictorian's trophy, Angela said she didn't want to discuss her competition with Amanda White and declared with a wisdom missing in many adults, ''Graduation is supposed to be a happy time. We don't want controversy.''

But Stan White, who is an attorney, radio talk show host and alleged adult, said, ''In everybody's mind, [Amanda's] still the No. 1 ranked student and class valedictorian. . . . Everybody in school knows it. They know who should have been ranked No. 1.''

He doesn't get it, does he? He's still worried about an honorary title, and his daughter's last days of innocent youth have slipped away.

He can't even make an argument here about striving for excellence. His daughter's record is outstanding on any grounds. She didn't need somebody handing her a valedictory title to confirm it, and she certainly didn't need the night school and the summer school and the aggravation of the past year.

Angela Lee should be allowed to accept her award with dignity. Amanda White should be allowed to enjoy the extraordinary success she's had. And Stan White and Stuart Berger should keep quiet before they embarrass themselves even more than they already have.

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