After two months of organized practices, Howard County athletes will be on their own this week. Extracurricular activities are not allowed during exam week, when high school students are dismissed 3 1/2 hours early each day.
However, many local coaches and athletic directors believe the county's no-practice rule -- the only one in the Baltimore area -- could jeopardize the athletes' safety.
Administrators, though, feel their priorities are in order.
"I don't want to lose sight of the fact that we're an academic institution, and we're giving them a half-a-day to study," said Mount Hebron principal Adrianne Kaufman. "The big thing is the message that we send: that academics have priority over athletics."
Added Long Reach principal Dave Bruzga: "Study time should be sacred. It would be sending a different message if we gave students other obligations when they should be preparing for exams."
After conflicting policies resulted in some schools' teams practicing but others not doing so, county athletic directors proposed to principals last June that shorter-than-normal practices be permitted each day during exam week.
In August, the 10 high school principals voted unanimously to prohibit organized practices run by coaches at the schools.
"It's very rare that the principals agree 10-0 on any issue, [so] you know it was an issue we all felt passionately and strongly about," Kaufmann said.
"It's an overreaction," said River Hill wrestling coach Earl Lauer, who agrees that academics should get top priority. "It wasn't very well thought out. We have politics in the fact that we have a perception that we must maintain.
"I don't think anybody has been able to stand up and say maybe we should rethink this."
Students may not practice tomorrow -- Martin Luther King Day -- because testing begins in some schools on Tuesday. Teams can resume practices Friday. Basketball games and wrestling matches are scheduled Saturday.
"There's a safety factor, especially with wrestling," Lauer said. "I don't have them again until Friday. What happens to not just the physical conditioning but their flexibility? If you have to come back and play on Saturday you're taking a chance with the kids."
Lauer's team will practice Saturday, not go to a tournament.
But Long Reach's wrestlers will be in Catonsville's tournament Saturday, and Lightning coach Bill Flick is concerned that his athletes might be at a disadvantage.
"The kids' muscles aren't going to be up to par. It's definitely a safety situation," said Flick. "We'll practice on Friday, and during the week I'll have the kids exercise as much as they can on their own."
But Flick added: "There's no kid out there studying from noon to 9 that night. To implement an hour of practice each day that week would not affect their final exams in any way."
Glenelg girls basketball coach Ciaran Lesikar is another who said a short practice each day at school makes sense.
"We know the kids are going to have to work out," said Lesikar, noting a lot of her players probably will drive to the Columbia Association's Supreme Court to play. "When a coach is running [practice], the kids will be able to put in less time and get more benefits."
"My main problem," she continued, "is the importance of exercise as it relates to stress reduction. How could someone believe that a short practice would be detrimental? All the research says exercise is good for stress reduction and mental sharpness."
River Hill sophomore standout basketball player Greeba Outen, who has a 3.75 grade-point average, is one player who feels a compromise could be worked out.
"I'm into my school work," Outen said. "I study hard, but I also want to practice. If we could have a shorter practice right after school, that would be good."
Principals expect disciplined athletes to practice, anyway.
"The kids [who] are dedicated athletes will find the time to exercise and do what they need to do," Kaufmann said. "And I expect that most of them, where grades are concerned, are going to study."
Actually, The Mall in Columbia might be a good place to find many students this week.
"These kids won't go to study. Go to the mall. That's where you'll find them," said Wilde Lake athletic director Carol Satterwhite.
Added Lauer: "Take a poll of the kids and find out how many of them are studying eight to 10 hours, and you can probably get that survey at the mall."
Pub Date: 1/17/99