Athletic director consumed by probe

`It's been a stressful time,' says suspended coach

January 14, 2004|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Suspended Oakland Mills High School athletic director Ken Hovet said yesterday that he has been consumed by the two-month investigation into a grade-changing scandal that led to forfeiture of the school's winning football season and cost it a playoff berth.

"It's been a stressful time for me and my family," said Hovet, who is married and has children ages 9, 6 and 3, two of them in Howard County schools. "I never imagined it would drag out this long. I was told this would be concluded before Thanksgiving, then it was pushed back to after Thanksgiving. Then, I was told it would happen before Christmas, and later told it would happen right after Christmas."

County school officials announced Monday that they will launch a sweeping examination of the academic eligibility of high school athletes after an investigation into improper grade-changing at Columbia's Oakland Mills High uncovered 16 ineligible students participating in activities ranging from varsity football to cheerleading.

Schools Superintendent John R. O'Rourke relieved Hovet of his responsibilities, and disciplinary action against other school staff is pending Board of Education approval. Hovet had been on paid administrative leave since November, but his pay was revoked Monday. He said he has no other employment plans if he is dismissed from the Howard County school system.

Hovet, 42, who taught U.S. history at Oakland Mills, grew up in Howard County and graduated from Oakland Mills and Davidson College in North Carolina. He has a master's degree in business administration and a law degree from the University of Maryland, and he is certified to teach social studies. He played football at Oakland Mills and Davidson.

Hovet says he grew up in a household dedicated to high educational principles. His mother, Mary, who died in April, worked 32 years for Howard County schools. Among her jobs was the director of high schools and assistant superintendent in charge of curriculum.

"I've always admired her for her accomplishments," said Hovet, who has taught in the county for 12 years and coached for 20 years, 11 as Oakland Mills' head football coach.

Hovet's teams have enjoyed a high degree of success, including a state title in 1998. Only one other active county coach has led a team to a state title.

"Howard County has been a rewarding place to work, and I'm thankful for having had the opportunity to interact with the student athletes at Oakland Mills," Hovet said. "They know how committed I am to them. And the other coaches that I've worked with have been like part of my family."

After leaving a law career to teach, Hovet became a student teacher at Glenelg High School under Dennis Cole, whose sons both graduated from Oakland Mills and played football and lacrosse under Hovet. Cole, a former head football coach at Glenelg, was a volunteer coach under Hovet from 1992 through 1997.

"I'm mystified by all of this," Cole said. "I never witnessed anything unethical he did as a coach, and I know that he's a fine teacher."

Cole's son Bryan graduated from Oakland Mills in 1997, played Division I lacrosse at Mount St. Mary's and had a stint on the Baltimore Bayhawks professional lacrosse team after playing football and lacrosse under Hovet.

"I owe him a lot," Bryan Cole said. "He's an honest guy who is very smart and was like a second father to me, steering me on the right path. He did nothing but good things for me, and I think it's terrible he's become the fall guy in this situation."

Mark Dymczenski, another Oakland Mills graduate who played football and lacrosse under Hovet, echoed Cole's sentiments. "I don't believe he'd do this, and that they've gone the wrong way with their decision," he said. "He's been a role model to me and a lot of other good kids. They will be losing a lot by getting rid of him."

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