The Meade girls basketball team will have to forfeit 11 of its 14 victories this season because a junior reserve on the team has been living out of the Meade school district since September.
The violation of Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association rules ends any hopes the Mustangs had of winning the Anne Arundel County North Division championship and meeting South Division winner Arundel for the county title Tuesday.
Old Mill (12-7), which held a one-game lead over Meade with one game left for both teams before the forfeits, clinches the North title.
However, because the state basketball tournament is using an open tournament format this year, the Mustangs will be able to compete for the state 4A girls title even though their record drops to 3-18.
Meade athletic director Sam Pandullo said yesterday a five-member Anne Arundel County board of arbitration, consisting of three principals and two athletic directors, recommended to the MPSSAA Thursday that Meade forfeit all of the 11 wins the team had while Chante Cheeks was on the squad.
"I think the action is too harsh," said Pandullo, who added that the school will appeal the ruling. "We turned ourself in the moment we discovered it. Thirteen girls are being penalized because of what happened to one girl.
"I'm not allowed to give group punishment in my classroom so why should it be allowed in this case. It wasn't done on purpose. We all thought she lived on the Fort Meade post."
Meade coach Phil Popielski said he, assistant coach Maria Merrill and players on the team all drove Cheeks to a house on Fort Meade several times, thinking it was her home instead of just a place she went to baby-sit for her mother.
Popielski said he never knew that Cheeks' mother had moved off the Fort Meade post to Glen Burnie last September.
"Chante lived on the post for two years and neither her nor her mother felt anything was wrong with moving off base," he said.
"They came here from Massachusetts where they said you could live anywhere you want and still go to the same school. The mix-up a lot of people in the military have is that they believe you go to a military school no matter where you live. That's the way it is in Germany. But Meade High is not a military school. It is a public school on a military post."
Popielski, who will receive a letter of censure for not discovering the Cheeks error, said he would gladly take a suspension for the rest of the season instead of having his players punished.
"Our girls want to wear black arm bands in our next game [scheduled for today at 1 p.m. at Glen Burnie] because they believe the decision is not fair," said Popielski.
"The players have banded together and they aren't blaming Chante because they realize she didn't knowingly break the rule."
Cheeks missed one Meade victory during the Christmas vacation when she was in Texas and she has not played in the last two Meade games (both wins) since it was discovered that she resided in the Glen Burnie school district.
Popielski said Cheeks has played only a total of 27 minutes in seven games and scored four points.
Meade is not the first area girls team to have to forfeit victories this season. Earlier this month Mount Hebron had to forfeit wins over Glenelg and Centennial after it was revealed the Vikings practiced on two Sundays (Jan. 7 and 14), breaking a state rule that does not allow teams to play or practice on Sundays.