Brains down at Centennial

Howard County: School board must stiffen policy so athletic hazing can't be taken lightly.

September 17, 1999

You want an indictment of what has high school athletics has become? Look to Centennial High School in Ellicott City.

Its principal is actually fielding criticism from parents who are upset that their sons were punished for harming fellow members of the soccer team in a hazing incident. Fourteen upper-class team members forced a dozen freshmen on the junior varsity to line up against a wall and hold their ankles as soccer balls were ferociously kicked at them in a "ritual" called "butts up."

One player, thinking--praying that the torture was over, turned around and took a ball in the face, causing a concussion. Another victim injured his hand.

Some parents of perpetrators pladed with PrincipalLynda Mitic: Please don't make our sons miss two socver games or five days of class-- they might not get sports scholarships. Besides, they contended, this is "soccer culture."

Nonsense. The punishment at Centennial wasn't harsh enough. The culprits should have missed the season. The principal shouldn't have even had to make that call. First-year coach Jim Zehe should have bounced the players involved since they flouted his ban on hazing announced just weks ago. His warning obviously didn't deter them; seeing the school's lame response, it's little wonder.

A student-athlete who struggles in class and can't maintain a "C" would miss play for a semester. Ditto for a kid caught around illegal drugs or drinking, whether he was involved or not, because he was where he should not have been. So why should a youth who inflicts mental and physical harm on a peer get a wrist-slap and miss hardly any game time at all?

The Howard County Board of Education must amend its policy on physical attacks to include athletic hazing. If coaches and principals are going to take it lightly, they shouldn't be allowed discretion to do so.

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