Meade deserves better fate

Sidelines

February 21, 1996|By Pat O'Malley | Pat O'Malley,SUN STAFF

They will play the first Anne Arundel County boys and girls basketball championships tonight at Old Mill and the Meade girls can only be spectators.

For being upfront about an honest mistake, they have been severely penalized. Sometimes following the letter of the law is not the right decision.

In this case, the Board of Arbitration showed a lack of compassion and no guts. History repeated itself, but fairness and compassion did not.

A fair precedent was set in a similar case in November 1988, but was ignored in the Meade case.

Meade's team forfeited 11 games because of an ineligible player and was knocked out of the championship game. It would have been the team's first winning season in almost a decade.

Meade was tied for first in the North Division with Old Mill and could have won the division with a victory over Glen Burnie (they beat the Gophers, 56-42, Saturday) by virtue of the tiebreaker.

Instead, the Mustangs can only watch Old Mill (12-7, 11-5) play South Division champion Arundel (20-2, 16-0) for the county crown.

"We didn't try to pull anything and turned ourselves in and look what happens," said Meade coach Phil Popielski. "There were mitigating circumstances that were ignored.

"Our parents think it was too harsh and this is not the end of it. We are going to appeal to the state. We realize we won't be playing in the county championship, but we want the wins back. Our seniors have never had a winning season. This is really unfair."

The ineligible player, who was not a starter and played under 30 minutes in nine games, did not try to pull a fast one when she moved into the Glen Burnie district after living on the Fort Meade military base her first two years.

Her mother honestly did not know she was supposed to file a change of address with the Board of Education. There was no attempt to deceive because the address on the student's eligibility form was the new address.

First-year athletic director Sam Pandullo unintentionally missed the address change when checking team rosters.

Had he noticed, the girl could have notified the board and most likely been approved to remain at Meade.

Such approvals happen all the time in the county where freedom of movement is extraordinary and often unpoliced.

The turnover rate at Meade is nearly 40 percent, which makes keeping up with address changes very difficult.

"We had to be in compliance with state law," said county coordinator of physical education Rick Wiles. "We are mandated to follow state rules and that's what we did."

The Board of Arbitration followed the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association rules.

The rule calls for the forfeiture of all games in which the violation occurred and says to "declare the MPSSAA member school ineligible for championship honors."

In the fall of 1988 Severna Park football coach Andy Borland discovered one of his players no longer lived in the Falcons' district.

The Board of Arbitration ruled that Severna Park had to forfeit its first three games, which would have knocked them out of the playoffs.

Two days later, the board rescinded the penalty. Then-county coordinator Paul Rusko said Severna Park was upfront in turning itself in.

As almost always happens, the MPSSAA supported the decision of county officials and Severna Park went to the playoffs, finishing 9-2 instead of 6-4.

The same thing could have been done for Meade.

Popielski was disturbed that one member of the board who had voting privileges has a daughter playing at Old Mill.

"I don't think it was fair that Mike Baker [North County athletic director who has a daughter at Old Mill] was on the board," said Popielski.

Wiles said that Baker was "very upfront about his situation," and said he "couldn't specify whether he voted.

"But we had enough votes without Baker voting anyway. Without him, it was unanimous."

Unanimously wrong and unfair to a group of innocent girls with an innocent coach.

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