St. Paul's: still healing

High schools: A year has passed since the scandal that forced cancellation of the school's lacrosse season, but the team continues to feel the effects.

High Schools

March 15, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

With daily devotion, the high school boys of Brooklandville, who are not quite old enough to be called men, plead with one another.

Stick together. Don't do anything stupid. Everyone is watching you. Everyone is waiting for you to screw up. Prove them wrong.

The refrain never changes.

A year ago, that was hardly the case for the St. Paul's boys lacrosse team. The team was considered the best high school squad in the country, and its 34 players - some who had played together since age 10 - were looking forward to the best season of their lives.

What changed all that was a scandal that rocked the private-school community and had much of Baltimore buzzing over the course of two weeks in April 2001.

Three games into the season, word leaked out that a 16-year-old St. Paul's player had videotaped himself having sex with a 15-year-old girl without her knowledge, then shown the video to about 30 of his teammates.

The incident eventually led to cancellation of St. Paul's entire season and was a tremendous embarrassment for the school, which is one of the most affluent in the area and also regarded as one of the best.

Tomorrow, St. Paul's lacrosse team returns after a year in limbo, traveling to Haverford, Pa., for the first game of the Crusaders' 2002 season.

Though 12 seniors graduated from last year's squad, and the player who made the tape was expelled, many of the prominent players on this year's team were at least indirectly involved in the incident of a year ago, having watched the tape.

And though time has healed some of the wounds, there are still important questions to be asked: Can St. Paul's finally move forward after having done penance? Is a normal season possible? And perhaps most importantly, have attitudes on the team changed in a year's time?

"You hope so, but I'll be honest: I'm not sure," said St. Paul's coach Mitch Whiteley, who helped make the immediate decision to cancel the season last year, his 20th as the school's coach.

"There is a very short memory with kids, and you forget sometimes you've got different kids every year. We want to move on. Are our kids going to be perfect? No. Are they working hard and committed to doing the best they can? Yeah. But so were last year's kids. So who knows?"

It was not an easy decision to cancel the season, but even now, Whiteley has no second thoughts about whether he and then-St. Paul's headmaster Robert W. Hallett made the right one.

Either way, Whiteley understood there would be criticism. Not every member of the team watched the video - which was shown at a player's house at which teammates had gathered to watch film of St. Paul's next opponent - but enough players did so that the school acted quickly and decisively.

"Fact of it is, I was proud of what we did," Whiteley says. "We took the stand we had to take. We didn't try to cover it up or sweep it under the rug. We didn't treat these kids like prima donnas with special privileges to do whatever they want.

"But at soon as it happened, I knew it was a no-win situation. We took the hard stance and we still got blasted by people."

A big chunk of that anger, Whiteley admits, came from a few St. Paul's parents whose boys were not involved. For a high school lacrosse player wanting to earn a college scholarship, the junior season is by far the most important.

No harm to juniors

And the junior class just so happened to have the least involvement in the incident. The most common concern of parents a year ago, Whiteley said, was that those juniors would suffer greatly from the reduced lack of exposure.

"That didn't happen," said Whiteley, who was an All-Ivy League goalie at Dartmouth and whose son, Tim, was an All-America attackman at Virginia.

"A lot of the college coaches out there I've either played with, worked with or they're friends of mine. We made some calls, and they understood what was going on. Because of the past success we've had with kids, both athletically and academically, they know that if we say a kid can play, he can play."

St. Paul's certainly had the talent, and the influence of Whiteley proved to be substantial.

St. Paul's seniors Sean Link and Hayward Howard have each earned scholarships from North Carolina. Tyson Rupprecht and D.J. Andrzejewski will play for Penn next year. Bill Wilson and Matt Taylor will play for Vermont. Brent Hargest will play at Maryland, Bryan Read at Hofstra, Will Baugher at Washington and Lee and Ed Boyd for Dickinson.

None of that, however, takes away the sting of the incident for St. Paul's. Even a year later, players are still conflicted over how exactly they should feel.

According to the school, the girl's family didn't file a civil suit against St. Paul's (a hot topic at the time), so the legal trouble appears to have passed.

The team trained together all off-season, playing collectively on clubs and indoor-league teams, where they had to deal with taunting at every turn.

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