Sports Policy Keeps Many Students Put

1-year Ban On Athletes Who Switch To `Open' Schools Is Deterrent

`It's Pointless To Go Back'

Education Board Says Provision Prevents Recruitment Of Pupils

April 29, 1997|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

No sports, no return.

That's the response of dozens of Howard County students at River Hill High School after the school board decided last week to stick with its policy of barring athletes who enter open enrollment schools from participating in sports for one school year.

About 270 students were redistricted last year from Glenelg High School in western Howard to River Hill in Clarksville, and some who resisted the move in the first place now say they'd like to go back under open enrollment -- but not if they're penalized by being kept out of sports for a school year.

"They shouldn't have taken us away [from Glenelg] anyway," said Troy Drake, a junior who plays lacrosse and football at River Hill. "It's pointless to go back there now and not have the same rights to play sports as other seniors."

Last week, the school board designated five of the county's 10 high schools -- Atholton, Glenelg, Hammond, Howard and Oakland Mills -- as "open enrollment" schools for next fall, allowing students who live outside the neighborhood to attend the school as long as they provide their own transportation.

To be designated an open enrollment school, high schools' enrollments must be below 95 percent of their building's capacity. At the same time, the board voted to uphold its longtime policy that students who attend open enrollment schools cannot play a sport their first school year after moving.

School board members say the reason for the sports provision is to prevent students from being recruited to play for a particular school's teams.

When River Hill opened this school year on Route 108, many of the former Glenelg students and their parents were uneasy about leaving.

But school board members now say they don't anticipate a mad rush of students transferring out of River Hill or Long Reach High in east Columbia, the other school that opened this school year.

"I expected to hear a lot more from the public on this than I did," said board member Stephen Bounds. "The relative silence spoke volumes."

But some community members and students -- especially in the Glenelg district where about 270 students were redistricted last year from Glenelg to then-new River Hill -- are disappointed by the board's decision.

"We were very upset by having to go to River Hill in the first place and now being told we can go back -- but not play sports is just adding to it," said Diane Kruger, whose son Brian plays lacrosse at River Hill. "Telling them [athletes] they can go back, but not play sports is like dangling a carrot in their face.

"It's just not fair," said Kruger, who lives in Glenelg.

The grievances aren't limited to former Glenelg students.

Molly Martin, a freshman, was moved from the Altholton High School attendance zone to River Hill's in last year's redistricting. She'd like to go to Altholton because it's closer to her home.

"I'd like to go back but who wants to sit out on your sport and watch from the sidelines?" she said. "Most of us would rather stay at the school we're at and play rather than go back and miss out."

But some western Howard students at River Hill, who ordinarily would have gone to Glenelg High, don't want to go there now -- even if they could play sports.

"I was supposed to go to Glenelg and I would have liked to, but I've gotten to play with and meet different people," said Lisa Humphrey, a freshman at River Hill. "Now I'm here, I've gotten to know people and I'll probably just stay."

The athletic-eligibility provision is a particularly crucial issue for junior athletes who would have to sit out their senior year -- as potential college scholarships are at stake.

Ken Hutton is an example. A River Hill junior who plays lacrosse and football, Hutton -- who was sent to River Hill last year after attending Glenelg for two years -- would have to sit out his senior year if he went back to Glenelg.

Sitting out his last year, he said, would virtually kill his chances of an athletic scholarship.

"My only chance for me to get into college is lacrosse," said Hutton, who lives in Glenelg. "They're not really giving me a choice by taking sports away. I have to stay at River Hill."

Kristin Hooker, a junior at River Hill, added: "It would be a real hassle to switch schools now. Everything is already messed up with half my friends here and half at Glenelg -- and without being allowed to play sports, that's even worse."

Open enrollment applications may be submitted from May 7 to 23, school officials say. Lotteries will be held in schools that receive more student applications than their available space would allow.

Pub Date: 4/29/97

Sun staff writer Howard Libit contributed to this article.

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