A Howard County schools sports committee recommended sanctions yesterday against five coaches at Oakland Mills High School for allowing academically ineligible students to compete last fall, but that no further action be taken against the teams.
"The school students have suffered enough for the adult mistakes," said Don Disney, athletics coordinator for Howard schools. "The community is hurting, and everyone is sensitive to that."
The varsity football team had to forfeit its season, as did the junior varsity football, volleyball, field hockey and boys cross country teams, after it was announced that 10 athletes with grades below county requirements were allowed to participate. Six cheerleaders also were found academically ineligible.
A committee on sports rules and infractions - made up of Reservoir High School Principal Adrian Kaufman, River Hill High Athletic Director Don Van Deusen and Atholton High Athletic Director Chuck Fales - convened yesterday morning to review the situation and recommend discipline to the Maryland Public School Secondary Athletics Association, which will impose penalties.
Members recommended that the teams with ineligible players forfeit their seasons and be ineligible for championships. Superintendent John R. O'Rourke had previously decided on that.
Ineligible students were barred from winter sports, which they were told about before the start of the season Dec. 5, although the school system did not make the information known until Monday.
The committee suggested that the four junior varsity coaches involved receive censure letters for their failure to check on academic eligibility.
"Some of the coaches are very young, and I certainly don't want them to be discouraged from coaching," Disney said in explaining the minor punishment.
The panel recommended that Ken Hovet, the varsity football coach and athletic director, be given the most severe penalty possible, a "Level 4" sanction imposing "additional penalties as may seem justified."
Interpreting that vague language is up to the Maryland Public School Secondary Athletics Association. Hovet might never be allowed to coach again in Maryland The next-strictest penalty, "Level 3," bars coaches from coaching for a year.
The highest-level sanction was proposed against Hovet because an improper grade change was made for one of his football players, apparently to make him eligible to participate.
The other ineligible students slipped through the cracks because the proper checks were not performed, officials said.
"The system let us down," O'Rourke said Tuesday.
Hovet declined to comment yesterday. He has been placed on administrative leave without pay from his positions as football coach, Oakland Mills athletic director and history teacher. O'Rourke is expected to recommend his termination.
"He has been relieved of his responsibilities," O'Rourke said Monday.
The state athletics association could accept the committee's recommendations or impose stiffer penalties, such as declaring the school ineligible to participate in any state tournament for one year.
O'Rourke and Disney have asked other county high schools to audit themselves and report any infractions. If any are found, the same committee process will be followed.
The school system headquarters staff has been ordered to perform random checks at schools.
"We don't want to hide from this," Disney said. "We want to use it as an opportunity."
The committee also recommended making athletic directors' positions full time countywide, which would cost about $400,000 a year. Athletic directors work part time, and each receives a $4,000 annual stipend.
Oakland Mills' acting athletic director, Carol Satterwhite, who does not expect to be in the position much longer, said, "We're just going to continue on."