Small amount of beer drunk at sleepover, parent says

Suspended girl's father calls discipline against players an overreaction

Westminster

January 23, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai and Jennifer McMenamin | Athima Chansanchai and Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

The gathering that led to the suspension of nine members of the Westminster High School girls basketball team for allegedly violating the Carroll school system's alcohol policy was a sleepover at which a small amount of beer apparently was drunk, the father of one of the girls who was suspended said yesterday.

Randall S. Matthews, whose home was the site of the gathering last month, said that during the night he discovered that a small group of boys had crashed the sleepover, and that he asked them to leave. He said he saw evidence of drinking the next day, but he charged that school officials had overreacted by suspending the girls from the team for the rest of the season.

"These are good girls, good students, nice young ladies," he said. "These girls are not in any way, shape or form ever in trouble. They've been punished far beyond what would to me be reasonable."

Although Dick Ebersole, coach of Westminster's girls basketball team, originally said the team would forfeit three games before calling players up from junior varsity, he said yesterday that the team instead will play as scheduled tomorrow night at Liberty High School.

The team, which had been favored to win its second straight county championship and had been considered a contender for a state title, forfeited a game Tuesday after the allegations surfaced that day. Three of the team's players were not involved.

School system policy

The nine players who were suspended are accused of drinking alcohol or being in the presence of underage drinking, several sources close to the situation have said. Under Carroll 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 for 45 school days or the rest of the athletic season, whichever is longer.

The rules, considered some of the strictest in the metropolitan area, also prohibit "constructive possession," in which a student knowingly places himself or herself in the proximity of an underage person possessing alcohol or drugs.

Westminster High faced a similar circumstance in 1999, when 40 athletes were ruled ineligible after they were determined to have been at a party, off school grounds, where alcohol allegedly was consumed. A dozen of the athletes, claiming that they hadn't been drinking, filed suit to challenge the school system policy. The suit was dismissed.

Carroll school officials refused yesterday to discuss details of the allegations against the Westminster girls basketball players, noting federal privacy regulations.

Investigation

Although it remained unclear how the alleged drinking reached the attention of school officials, Larry Faries, coordinator of security for Carroll County schools, said he became aware of the allegations against the Westminster players late Monday. He said he investigated the matter and conferred with Westminster High School Principal John Seaman, who made the decision to suspend the girls from the team.

Faries said students receive fair warning about the consequences of violating the policy.

"The kids are constantly advised of this" by assistant principals and coaches, he said. "It's not like they didn't know."

Carroll school officials passed on information about the Dec. 20 gathering to state police, said a school official familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Lt. Terry L. Katz, commander of the state police Westminster barracks, said his troopers are not investigating the gathering because nothing indicates that any crime, such as an adult furnishing minors with alcohol, was committed.

Matthews, whose daughter was host of the gathering, said he did not witness any of the girls drinking.

"It was not even a party," he said. "It was a sleepover, something that happens all the time."

Reached at his office in Owings Mills at the Maryland Rosewood Center, where he said he works for the state Health Department, Matthews, 47, said that his daughter frequently had friends over. He would not say where he lives.

At the gathering last month, he said, he woke up and checked on the girls, who he said were watching television and playing cards. But he said he found five or six boys or young men in his basement with them, adding that he immediately "ejected" them from his home.

`A beer can or two'

"The following morning it was evident to me some small amount of beer had been consumed," Matthews said. "I found a beer can or two left outside my home."

He said he is "unnerved" by the suspensions.

"To lose a year for something I consider to be extremely minor is very unfair," he said. "Should I have been more vigilant? Perhaps I should have been."

James Chicuto, father of one of the girls who was suspended, said his daughter told him that the parent at home during the gathering was unaware that girls were drinking.

His wife, Donna Chicuto, said she feels the team members acted irresponsibly but were punished too harshly.

"I'm not saying what they did was right," Chicuto said. "The policy is a good-intentioned policy, but I feel it's being misused. The punishment doesn't fit the crime."

Chicuto said she finds the punishment particularly harsh because it is not clear that all of the suspended team members drank alcohol. She said she is unsure whether her daughter drank alcohol or merely attended the gathering.

Parent's view

"These girls will not tell you," she said. "They will not throw each other to the hounds."

The Chicutos said they wonder why the incident remained unreported for a month, as the season progressed. Both also said they worry that college recruiters, who have been scouting their daughter, won't get enough of a chance to see her in action.

"How much it's going to hurt, nobody knows the answer," Donna Chicuto said.

Sun staff writers Sheridan Lyons and Childs Walker and special correspondent Rich Scherr contributed to this article.

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