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Golfer Connelly wins appeal on qualifying


Stephanie Connelly will get a chance to defend her state golf championship, after all.

A three-person committee appointed by state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick ruled yesterday that Connelly, a Northeast High sophomore who will miss the District V tournament while in Ireland at the Junior Ryder Cup, will be allowed to qualify for this year's state tournament from another district.

The ruling overturned a decision handed down this summer that would have left the Sept. 24 district meet at Ruggles Golf Course as Connelly's only chance to qualify.

Yesterday's decision ended a four-month appeals process that began in May when Northeast principal George Kispert petitioned Ned Sparks, director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, to consider the circumstances of Connelly's case and allow the sidestepping of the requirement that the state tournament field be based on scores posted in the eight district championship tournaments.

The state golf committee rejected the initial appeal on the grounds of fairness, with Sparks saying in a July 12 Sun story that allowing Connelly to qualify in a district other than her own would knock another golfer out of contention.

Sparks' interpretation of the qualification process was later proved inaccurate, prompting a second appeal filed jointly by Anne Arundel County schools interim Superintendent Kenneth Lawson and Anne Arundel County athletic director Marleen Kelly.

Superintendents Jim Hook (Calvert County), Wendell Teets (Garrett) and Bernie Sadusky (Queen Anne's) met yesterday to hear the Lawson/Kelly appeal and issued their decision early in the afternoon.

"The committee felt like circumstances were unique enough to let her qualify in a different district," said Sparks.

Connelly first heard of the decision after she was called to Kispert's office while in class yesterday afternoon.

"I was scared to death when they called me to the office because I thought I had done something wrong," she said. "But I couldn't think of anything I did, and then my principal told me, 'They're going to let you play,' and I just started crying. I was shocked. It was so awesome."

The decision about which district tournament Connelly will play in is up to Sparks, who said he'll spend the next few days weighing factors like date and location while trying to find the most convenient option. He said he's considering "several" of Maryland's eight golf districts, though both Connelly and Northeast coach Brandt Schanberger said they understood that Sparks was leaning toward District VI in Baltimore County.

Connelly almost ran into this problem last year after she qualified for the 2001 Junior Ryder Cup. That event was canceled due to the events of Sept. 11, enabling Connelly to compete in the District V tournament she otherwise would have missed.

She qualified for the state tournament, then broke an 18-year-old record with a two-day total of 148 to win the girls 4A-3A title.

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