What Price for Sports Violence?

March 18, 1994

We note with a sense of irony the fact that two high school coaches came before the Howard County Board of Education last week to ask for tougher rules against students and players who assault coaches and other students at interscholastic sporting events.

It was not too long ago that high school athletic coaches, out of fear of losing a star player, were the first to call for leniency when it came to discipline. The fact that some coaches have made an about-face on this issue is a reflection of how bad things have become.

This school year alone in Howard County has seen a half-dozen violent incidents at high school basketball games, including at least two occasions when parents struck coaches. The other incidents have involved students fighting each other or players striking coaches. One episode ended in a melee that forced game officials to clear the school gymnasium of spectators.

The coaches who appeared at last week's board meeting said they have the support of nearly 30 other basketball coaches in Howard County. They called on school board officials to establish a mandatory policy suspending students and players involved in fighting for 45 days and banning them from extra-curricular activities for the rest of that season and the next.

This proposal should test school administrators' resolve to curb this growing problem. If followed, the tougher regulations would equal the punishment already meted out for students who violate the school system's drug and alcohol policy.

So far, the response from school officials has been tepid. Don Disney, the county supervisor of athletics, said much of what coaches want is already school system policy but needs to be clarified. He added that efforts will be made to better instruct new coaches and players on existing policies and the value of good sportsmanship.

This is all well and good, but current school policy in Howard County calls for only a week's suspension unless approved by the superintendent. It also leaves principals with wide discretion in how students are disciplined. There are other weaknesses as well, but the overarching problem is an inherent lack of consistency.

hTC The school system needs rules that dispense meaningful discipline swiftly and uniformly. The coaches have it right when they say students need to know there is a heavy price to pay for inappropriate behavior.

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