Small amount of beer at players' gathering, father says

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 contended 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."

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.

The nine players who were suspended are accused of drinking alcohol or being in the presence of underage drinking, several 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 anyone with 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 to discuss details of the allegations against the Westminster girls basketball players, noting federal privacy regulations.

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."

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

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