New Town's title is history, but questions remain

On High Schools

High Schools

October 07, 2005|By MILTON KENT

FOR MANY, THE STORY OF New Town winning a state championship -- a Class 1A

girls basketball title -- in its first year of varsity competition last season seemed too good to be true. Seven months later, we find that the whole situation was just what it seemed, except we don't know enough to say why.

There's more than a whiff of implausibility in the air from the disclosure this week that the Titans were forced to take down their banner before it even was raised because two players on the team who should have attended Randallstown instead went to the brand-new Owings Mills school.

To New Town officials' credit, they didn't try to hide behind niceties or obfuscate. They turned themselves in, cooperated fully and took their punishment.

And that's the end of it, right? In the immediate sense, yes. New Town principal Dr. Margaret Spicer, who reported the matter to Baltimore County school officials last spring, said she would not appeal the recommended sanctions that the school forfeit all games that the ineligible players participated in and surrender the title.

"We had ineligible players on the team. That's it," said Spicer.

Well, frankly, that's not it. Let's start from the top. Surely, someone knew or should have known those kids on the Titans team were playing out of jurisdiction.

Spicer said yesterday, "There was a concern" about the players' status. A prudent question would be when did that concern first arrive at her desk? Spicer declined to answer that specifically yesterday, but said she didn't know before it happened.

One has to assume that Spicer isn't blowing smoke on that because if she was tipped off before the state tournament and let the kids play with a potential sword of Damocles hanging over them, that would be cruel.

However, the person with more questions to answer than Spicer is coach Pam Wright, who won her first state title after reaching the final six straight previous years at Milford Mill.

It's hard to imagine that a coach could have such a ticking time bomb sitting under her nose and not know about it, but we live in different times, as athletics go. The rules are, to be sure, the same, but the extent to which some kids and their parents are willing to go to skirt them has changed.

It's hard to know what's what here, since the identity of the two students wasn't revealed and because Wright declined further comment this week, beyond telling Sun reporter Katherine Dunn where the two kids were supposed to go to school and that they thought they were legally enrolled.

There's one more troubling aspect to this. Why won't Spicer appeal the sanctions? Yes, it's still a fact that two ineligible players played for the Titans, but is that worth taking a title away from 10 other kids who practiced and sweated toward a goal?

No staff changes have been made as a result of the incident, including replacing Wright, and the school is not on county or state probation and is eligible to play this year.

So, why wouldn't the principal of a school -- a new one at that -- fight to keep its first significant public achievement in the books? The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association's bylaws allow for appeals, and one would have to think that, absent evidence of complicity by coaches and school officials, there might be some mercy extended to a first-time offender.

If anything, if the kids violated the rules on their own, they should be penalized, as the bylaws permit, with 60 days of ineligibility rather than the rest of the Titans.

No doubt, the New Town folks had picked out a special place in their gym to hang their girls basketball 1A banner, and for good reason. Championships on every level, after all, are gifts from the athletic gods, precious things really, and should be marked in the best possible way.

That the Titans were able to cap a 25-2 inaugural season with a 62-53 win over Southside in the title game in the school's first year of varsity competition was nothing short of a miracle, and deserved to be feted accordingly.

Instead, there will be no banner on the New Town gym wall and no record that the Titans captured the title. There are, however, a bunch of questions still to be answered.

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