Softball, soft thinking Howard County: By making Atholton girls forfeit games, school officials again show lack of judgment.

May 22, 1998

IF CHUCK ECKER, the Howard County executive, is right about the schools' unwise spending, the system could save millions in a hurry. Instead of administrators, just hire one person armed with a fat volume of procedures. When a question arises about a student, that person could cite the infraction and dispose of the guilty party. Who needs brains when you have a rule book? A case in point is a decision that Atholton High forfeit its softball games for 1997-1998 because of confusion involving a student who transferred there.

The rule in Howard is not unique: Students who change schools must sit out a year. This discourages youngsters from hopping between schools at the invitation of an overzealous coach or to be on a powerful team.

But the matter of Melanie Porter, 17, fits neither of those examples. The honor student from the Wilde Lake area of Columbia enrolled at Atholton so she could attend Junior ROTC as did her brother, now in the Air Force. She decided after a year to leave the military program, just as Atholton became an "open enrollment" school to fill its empty seats. Ms. Porter decided to stay at Atholton and was told she could continue sports there, her family says.

Last week, she was ruled to have been ineligible the past two seasons. Officials investigated a tip and said that Ms. Porter couldn't be in the playoffs. She was crushed, her father says. The decision allowed River Hill High to win the county championship because its earlier loss to Atholton was erased.

How could the system allow a pupil to play for two seasons, then rule her ineligible? She didn't hide her transfer status. Why can't school hierarchies anywhere distinguish between innocent mistakes and violations of intent, be it the case of a girl who lends an asthma inhaler to a classmate gasping for breath, or an athlete whose change of schools was not done for sporting advantage?

The Atholton decision should be reversed. Barring that, hire that lone processor with a rule book and no judgment skills. It would save a truckload of tax money.

Pub Date: 5/22/98

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