Besieged coach for girls varsity stepping down

Alcohol at sleepover led to suspension of 9 basketball players

Trying to shield teens, he says

In wake of departure, adults hope remaining teammates can move on

Westminster

February 07, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

The coach of the Westminster High varsity girls basketball team resigned yesterday afternoon, 16 days after nine of his players were suspended for the rest of the season for allegedly drinking alcohol or being in the presence of underage drinking at an off-campus party.

Dick Ebersole, 56, who had led the Owls for 13 seasons during two separate stints as head coach, said he resigned to keep lingering inquiries over the players' suspensions from detracting from the rest of the season.

"I was trying to coach, and it had gotten to be that responding to questions surrounding those events had become a distraction to me. And I didn't want it to become a distraction to the kids currently on the team," he said in an interview last night.

Ebersole's resignation came just hours before the Owls' matchup with South Carroll High and with only three other games remaining on the team's regular-season schedule.

His departure also comes as parents of girls suspended from the team have registered complaints with school officials about the disciplinary action. At least one parent also has complained about Ebersole's handling of the situation.

Donna Chicuto, whose daughter, a senior, was one of the girls suspended, said the coach could have alerted parents that there might be alcohol at a sleepover party involving several players, but did not.

"I was upset with him because I felt if I had known something like this would happen, I would have diverted my daughter's activities for the evening as many parents do when they hear about something like this," said Chicuto, who detailed her complaints in a letter to school officials. "Today, justice does seem to have been served with his resignation, and now these nine girls can go forward with their lives."

But Ebersole said last night that he tried to keep the girls from getting into trouble.

"I had heard a rumor, as you hear as a coach and educator, that there may be alcohol [at the party] and I was surprised to hear that," he said. He said he warned a team member who he had heard was planning to attend of the consequences of going to a party where there might be alcohol.

"I was almost embarrassed to even bring it up with her because I had trust in those kids that something like that wouldn't happen," Ebersole said. "I was assured that would be the case."

He said that he and other school officials did not discover for about a month that team members had attended the Dec. 20 party and that alcohol was present.

On Jan. 21, Westminster High principal John Seaman decided to suspend the girls from the team. Under Carroll County's eligibility policy - considered one of the strictest in the Baltimore area - 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.

Superintendent Charles I. Ecker confirmed yesterday that more than one family has appealed the action. Chicuto said that she knows of three families who have filed appeals.

Hearings on their appeals were held Monday, Chicuto said. The superintendent's staff is not expected to announce a decision for several days. That decision can be appealed to the school board.

Ebersole turned in his letter of resignation to Seaman yesterday afternoon after a lengthy meeting with the principal and the county's athletics supervisor, Seaman said.

Seaman gathered the girls in a conference room yesterday afternoon to inform them of Ebersole's departure.

"What I asked them to do is play [last night's] game to the best of their abilities, and for the rest of the games to enjoy playing," he said. "That's why they're called games."

Few parents at last night's game - only the second loss in county play for Westminster - would comment on the coach's resignation.

"I'm a little disappointed that he resigned at this point in the season," said Reather Miles, the mother of Natasha Morrison, who was not involved in the party and was not suspended from the team.

"In light of what happened, it's been pretty stressful," she said. "Let's just get it done. Let's just finish the season. It's time to put it behind us."

Sun special correspondent Jeff Seidel contributed to this article.

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