Westminster loses 9 players for year in drinking probe

Alleged incident precedes suspensions

No. 19 Owls forfeit 1st of three games

High Schools

Girls basketball

January 22, 2003|By Rich Scherr | Rich Scherr,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Nine members of the Westminster High School varsity girls basketball team have been suspended from the team for the rest of the season for allegedly drinking alcohol or being in the presence of under-age drinking at an off-campus party, several sources close to the situation confirmed last night.

The disciplinary action stems from a party that by some accounts occurred Sunday, or by others as early as Christmas break, at the private residence of a player's parent. Three players allegedly were not involved.

Under the county's eligibility policy, students caught possessing or using illegal drugs or alcohol at any time, on or off school property, are prohibited from participating in extracurricular activities either for 45 school days or the rest of the academic season, whichever is longer. The rules, considered some of the strictest in the metro area, also include "constructive possession," in which a student knowingly and willingly places himself or herself in the proximity of a person possessing drugs or alcohol.

"It's a decision that's made by the principal, but it's based on the county-wide eligibility policy," said Carey Gaddis, coordinator of community and media relations for the Carroll County Public Schools. "Basically, the students have become ineligible, and that's all that we can say."

"There's county policy that leads me, but ultimately it's my decision," Westminster Principal John Seaman said.

Both declined to disclose specifics of the case, citing federal privacy laws designed to protect students.

It was unclear how the alleged drinking came to the attention of school officials. Several players and parents reached by The Sun declined to comment.

The Owls, 9-4 and ranked No. 19 in the latest Sun poll, forfeited last night's home game against Thomas Johnson, and are expected to forfeit two more games - at Liberty on Friday and at Urbana on Tuesday - before resuming their schedule Jan. 30 at home against Century, the first of six remaining games on their regular-season schedule.

Westminster had been favored to win its second straight county title, and was considered one of the top contenders in the hunt for the Class 4A state title. At a tournament late last month, the Owls defeated last year's 4A state champion, Churchill.

Now, the task for varsity coach Dick Ebersole becomes trying to rebuild the team using the three remaining players along with call-ups from the JV.

"We're going to have to regroup. We're going to forfeit a few games here and try to pick it up next week," Ebersole said. "Basically what we'll be doing is re-evaluating the kids that we have and trying to move personnel. We've already seen these kids play for two months now, so at some level we have a good idea what our needs are."

Westminster's JV had lost just one game going into last night's game.

"Overall for a JV squad, there are some good kids there," Ebersole said.

Westminster High faced a similar circumstance in 1999, when a dozen athletes were ruled ineligible to participate in extracurricular activities for 45 days after being placed at an off-campus party where alcohol allegedly was being consumed. The athletes, who said that they hadn't been drinking, went on to file suit against the county.

That suit was later dismissed by county Circuit Court Judge Francis M. Arnold.

The policy, however, has remained a source of discussion among parents and school board members.

Sun staff writer Jennifer McMenamin and special correspondent Jeff Seidel contributed to this article.

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