Judge upholds suspension of Towson U. gymnast

Action taken for her part in clash among students

April 04, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Jennifer Baierlein, the co-captain of Towson University's gymnastics team, had hopes of becoming an All-America gymnast this spring after competing in the NCAA national gymnastics championships.

But in a decision upheld yesterday by a Baltimore County judge, she has been suspended and is off the team until the fall because of her role in a series of confrontations among students that began at a Towson tavern.

Baierlein, a junior majoring in sports management, was suspended for the spring semester after a dispute that began at the Charles Village Pub between members of the women's gymnastics team and female members of the university dance team.

Baierlein left Judge Alexander Wright Jr.'s courtroom in tears yesterday after he rejected her challenge to the suspension by the university.

"It's just not fair," she said later.

Baierlein, 20, of Levittown, N.Y., filed suit last month in Baltimore County Circuit Court, challenging a school ruling that barred her from campus until the fall.

Her relatives said it was unfair that only Baierlein was suspended after the Jan. 27 incident, which involved at least a half-dozen other students. They also questioned whether male students who play heavily publicized sports such as football and basketball would have been punished as severely.

"What happened happened, but the punishment just didn't fit the crime," said Theresa Panica, an aunt who came from Long Island for yesterday's hearing.

Michael A. Anselmi, the school's lawyer, said all athletes are subject to the same code of conduct.

He said the suspension was based on the recommendation of a university hearing officer who heard Baierlein's account of the incident. The decision was affirmed after reviews by a student appeals committee and university President Mark L. Perkins, the lawyer added.

"This was not a case that was lightly considered or decided without all of the facts being carefully weighed," Anselmi said.

Wright ruled yesterday that university officials provided Baierlein with the necessary constitutional protections because they gave her notice of the charges and a hearing before suspending her.

Baierlein, of the 1300 block of Colbury Road, was at the Charles Village Pub when some of her friends became "involved in an argument or shoving situation," according to the suit filed by her lawyer, Marshall V. Grier.

Panica said that her niece wasn't drinking that night, but that Baierlein's friends were. The dispute began with arguments between members of the gymnastics and dance teams, Panica said, adding, "There was some kind of rivalry going on."

The lawsuit provided this version of events: A male student who was with the dance team members spat on Baierlein outside the bar, and she tore his shirt while pushing him away. Baierlein and some of her friends then went to a party at the Colony Apartments, an off-campus complex, and learned that the student who had spat on her lived nearby.

Baierlein went with a group of people to the student's apartment to "ask for an apology." She left when no one answered the door, but someone from her group broke down the door.

The group of dance team members who had "started the confrontation" at the tavern, according to the lawsuit, then arrived outside the apartment complex, and a series of scuffles broke out about 3 a.m. A female student, unnamed in court papers, confronted Baierlein twice, and Baierlein pushed her to the ground both times and struck her.

Baierlein, who was accompanied to court by a group of supporters, said after the hearing that she didn't provoke the confrontations.

She said the suspension means that she will graduate in December 2003, a semester behind her classmates, and will have to pay for the extra semester of classes.

She also will be ineligible to participate Saturday in the NCAA regional gymnastics meet at the University of West Virginia.

Baierlein said that although she might have shown poor judgment, the suspension unfairly targets her. "I don't deserve to be thrown out of school," she said. "I'm an asset to the school."

Dick Filbert, her coach, agreed.

"I think that what she did was wrong, but it could have been resolved without her being thrown out of school," Filbert said.

Baierlein was one of three students charged with violating school disciplinary codes after the incident, but the only one suspended, he said.

He said that a number of students, faculty and alumni are "appalled" that the university suspended Baierlein.

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