The 60-day suspension of Meade girls basketball player LaTanya Eldridge for a residency violation has been cut in half by a nine-member appeals committee,clearing the way for her to return to the team Monday.
The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association panel modified the suspension late Monday in Howard County. Eldridge, a senior forward, lived in the Meade district all four years of high school with her grandparents, who are not her legal custodians.
"She's still guilty, but the committee merely modified the penalty, which amounts to a 30-day suspension," said Ned Sparks, the MPSSAA executive director.
Anne Arundel County rules require that students reside with their parents or legal custodians in the attendance area of the school they attend. LaTanya's parents, Clyde and Velma Eldridge, live in the Old Mill district. Her grandparents, Gilbert and Rita Eldridge, live in Harmans.
Meade's team was forced to forfeit all the games Eldridge had played in over the last four years, and coach Phil Popielski was suspended from coaching in Anne Arundel County for two years.
Those penalties stand, although Popielski is still within the 30-day period to appeal. Popielski is currently conferring with the county teachers association and has yet to ask for a hearing before the state.
All four years, Eldridge's parents completed and signed the county student authorization form using the Harmans address, Clyde Eldridge said. LaTanya's Maryland driver's license has the Harmans address, he added.
"How much do you expect a 17-year-old to know about the rules?" asked Sparks. "And how can you punish the parents?"
Velma Eldridge produced documentation at the hearing that she is now also living with her daughter in Harmans to conform to the rules, Sparks said.
"LaTanya was caught in the middle, " said Clyde Eldridge, who said his daughter attended Old Mill Middle School one semester in sixth grade before moving in with his mother and transferring to MacArthur Middle in the Meade district. Her file was then moved to Meade High.
"Nobody ever said anything and we were not aware that any rules were being broken," her father said. "After seven years, for all of this to come up is not right. They ought to be after the school, not LaTanya."
The reduced penalty, which allows Eldridge to finish her high school career, is rare.
"It's been my experience that more stringent sanctions have been applied more frequently when appeals are made," said appeals committee chairman Ed Masood, who is the director of arts, health and physical education for Montgomery County representing District 2.
All nine MPSSAA districts were represented at the hearing, which lasted more than three hours.
"This is one of the few times a modification was done in favor of the person appealing," Masood said.