Hovet: Oak. Mills OK'd new grades

Suspended AD/coach says school's administrators initiated eligibility change

February 18, 2004|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Ending a three-month silence, suspended Oakland Mills athletic director and football coach Ken Hovet said yesterday that administrators at the Howard County school initiated the grade change that led to an investigation that resulted in the Scorpions forfeiting seven football games.

"An administrator came to me [in August] and requested that I accept a player on the football team whose grades needed to be changed to make him eligible," Hovet said. "I said there is only so much you can do because he failed tech systems, and it's not offered during the summer, so he can't make it up. And the administrator said, `Then we need to talk to his teachers.' "

Hovet admits he talked to two teachers about changing grades, and doing the initial paperwork for one grade change.

Oakland Mills principal Marshall Peterson did not return phone calls yesterday, and an assistant principal, Tina Maddox, refused to comment.

Hovet declined to identify the administrators involved.

Tim Dahle, the technology teacher who left the school in June, told The Sun in November that Hovet contacted him in late August about whether the football player could make up the work and get the grade changed.

"I told him no," Dahle said. "He [Hovet] then told me that he had nothing to do with this, that Marshall [Peterson] told him to put the kid on the team."

Hovet is unhappy with how the investigation has unfolded. "It makes me feel bad having to defend myself in the paper, but people haven't stepped forward to take responsibility for their actions and I don't have any choice," Hovet said. He added: "My belief was that the investigation would bring out all the facts but it hasn't."

The Howard County school system placed Hovet on administrative leave with pay on Nov. 13. On Jan 12, Howard County school superintendent John R. O'Rourke said Hovet had been "relieved of his responsibilities" and put the 42-year-old coach on unpaid administrative leave, pending action by the Board of Education.

Hovet has accused central office personnel of violating on multiple occasions the Maryland Public Information Act that prohibits the release of confidential personnel information.

"The central office leaked information in violation of state law whenever it was convenient, and when it wasn't convenient to provide information, it hid behind the veil of confidentiality," Hovet said. "It also put a gag order on teachers and told players on the team not to talk to me or the press about the investigation."

Hovet, who taught social studies at the Columbia school, said he has been offered reinstatement to a classroom teaching job somewhere in the county system by this summer, but has rejected the offer.

"I'll only accept being reinstated to my teaching job immediately, and if it is not at Oakland Mills, then I'm not interested," said Hovet, who wants his back pay since Jan. 12. "If they are saying that I'm such a bad guy, then why are they offering me anything?"

Howard County school system attorney Mark Blom called the investigation comprehensive.

"We have not violated his rights regarding discipline decisions," Blom said yesterday. "A public employee's assignment is public information. It is regrettable that some people involved received adverse publicity, but dozens of families were affected by the forfeits because of the question of academic integrity, and the public deserves to know.

"Mr. Hovet had numerous opportunities to present his information and he can give the school system a written release allowing it to release information regarding his conduct if he wishes."

Said Hovet, who is an Oakland Mills graduate: "I don't think I've been treated fairly by the school system or the superintendent. Oakland Mills has no more loyal son than me. I tried to be a positive influence on the kids at Oakland Mills. How did I end up the only fall guy?"

Hovet denied any intent to enhance the football team's performance by placing the player on the team.

"We don't have to cheat in order to be successful in football at Oakland Mills," Hovet said. "The idea that we would cheat is against everything I've tried to teach kids in 20 years of coaching [11 as head coach]."

Hovet said he was told by Oakland Mills administrators that the purpose for him to change the student's grades and placing him on the team was to provide that student a setting in which he could learn discipline, teamwork and feel a part of the school. The student, a transfer from another county school who had never played football before, played sparingly in four games only after the score became lopsided, Hovet said.

A complaint by Dahle initiated the grade-change inquiry in early September. Dahle contacted associate superintendent Roger Plunkett, who told Dahle weeks later that the student was eligible. Dahle said he then contacted school board member Sandra French, who forwarded him to Blom.

On Nov. 13, two days before Oakland Mills was to play Dunbar in a Class 1A South region game, the season came crashing to an end for the Scorpions. The school system announced Oakland Mills had to forfeit its playoff game and all seven of its regular-season victories.

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