Rules are rules, but what's justice?

On High Schools

High Schools

February 18, 2005|By MILTON KENT

A COMMITTEE of Howard County educators may have wanted to go easy on Glenelg for unwittingly allowing a student who lived outside the school district to play football and run track, but it was never going to happen.

Ned Sparks, the executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, was apparently determined that Glenelg was going to undergo some kind of punishment, even if those most aggrieved - the Gladiators' competitors - were OK with slapping them on the wrist.

Don't think so? Just look back to his statements right after he learned that the rules and infractions committee of the Howard school system declared the Glenelg sophomore ineligible, while saying that the school did not have to forfeit any games.

After saying that he could accept it if Howard superintendent Sydney L. Cousin had ruled that there was no violation, Sparks told The Sun, "But they can't say the kid was ineligible and not forfeit."

So Sparks, after receiving a written report from the committee, suggested that it take a look at the Code of Maryland Regulations, specifically at Regulation 13A.06.03.05, which gives as a first punishment against schools that violate a rule "forfeit of all games in which the violation occurred."

There it is, all nice and legal.

Pretty cold, too.

In this brand of justice, a school like Glenelg that learns of a violation, turns itself in, complies with the investigation and throws itself on the mercy of the court, is treated the same way as a school where a coach knowingly uses an ineligible kid, tries to hide it and then lies about it.

Perhaps the only thing the Howard committee got wrong was to allow the student, a sophomore who lived in Baltimore County but was using a Howard address while a house was being built in the Glenelg district, to play next year. The student, frankly, should have been barred from playing again at a public high school in the county.

But the committee - Wilde Lake football coach Doug DuVall, River Hill athletic director Brian Van Deusen and Reservoir principal Adrianne Kaufman - took into account what had happened, as well as Glenelg's cooperation, and came up with something that they and the rest of the county could live with.

That DuVall, whose program was forced to forfeit five games the previous year for using an out-of-district player, was so magnanimous and compassionate to a rival speaks volumes, even if it does suggest an inconsistency.

"It's precedent-setting, but it's the right thing to do," DuVall said earlier this month. "There was no state rule violated, and the previous violations never should have gone to the state. Now, a child can be punished locally. Hopefully, we've taken a huge step forward with this decision."

Not so fast, according to Sparks. The rules are the rules, and the Howard committee apparently didn't follow them, or at least not to his satisfaction.

Sparks said yesterday once he received a written account of the hearing, he saw flaws.

"In our book, there's a process," Sparks said. "When I received their written account of their hearing, I reviewed it, and then sent it back to them for review and clarification. They called the committee back together and came out with this ruling. I showed them what my concerns were and felt that there were some inconsistencies with the facts."

Sparks said he had conversations with county officials about the appeals process, saying that it should be the "arbitrator of mitigating circumstances," adding, "I expect them to appeal. I'd be disappointed if they didn't.

"When this first broke, they were outraged that they were hoodwinked," Sparks said. "I can imagine that they certainly would want an appeals committee to know all of the factors and that they feel that the penalties should be modified."

A cynic might read from that that Sparks wants to swoop in to play the benevolent protector, but that wouldn't be fair. Administering the rules for the state's public high schools is not an easy job, and Sparks is to be commended for trying to keep schools in line.

But the Howard people appeared to have handled what happened at Glenelg to the satisfaction of all who mattered. That should have been enough.

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