IF YOU ARE a high school athlete in Carroll County, beware of Big Brother. He is at the malls, in the parking lot, at pasta parties and coming soon to a theater near you. He might be lurking in your backpack, or hiding in your locker or under your desk.
No one can escape him, because he awaits you at home.
Well, join a lot of parents and athletes in Carroll County, especially at Westminster High, where nine girls basketball players were suspended for the rest of the season on Jan. 21 for allegedly attending an off-campus sleepover party where there was underage drinking.
The parents aren't upset about the punishment, but about a decade-old policy that intrudes on their rights as parents - and that includes me, because my daughter plays sports at a Carroll County school - as well as discriminates against athletes.
And they are absolutely right.
The policy is too broad in scope because of narrow-minded thinking. At a time when educators are having a most difficult time accomplishing their main goal of having students achieve academic success, they are taking on more authority outside the schools.
The Carroll County school board is Big Brother.
According to the district's rules, students may not use, be in actual or constructive possession of, manufacture or distribute look-alike drugs or alcohol at any time, on or off school premises. Constructive possession is knowingly and willingly placing oneself in proximity with a person who is illegally in possession of drugs or alcohol.
Translation: Don't use or hang around anyone who uses the stuff regardless of whether he or she is at a local 7-Eleven or in Iraq.
It's a great message, but once a student leaves school grounds and is no longer under the supervision of school officials, then parents should assume responsibility again.
Big Brother, take a hike.
Here's another major problem: The policy states that any athlete who violates this rule shall be ineligible to participate in extracurricular activity for the rest of the athletic season or 45 school days, whichever is longer. For students participating in non-athletic extracurricular activities, the duration of the penalty can be set by the adviser and principal.
Hmmm. A little unclear?
It gets worse.
How about students who violate the rule but aren't involved in any extracurricular activities?
"They lose their eligibility," said Westminster principal John Seaman.
Eligibility for what? They go to school, they go to class, they go home. Again, what eligibility?
"They lose their eligibility," he said again.
OK, enough. Well, do they get suspended for maybe three days? "Student-athletes don't get suspended," Seaman replied.
The Carroll County student handbook states violations may include actions ranging from suspension to expulsion. Nothing definitive, though. But athletes definitely will lose out on years of practice and possible college scholarships. All those holidays they'll miss with family are wasted. All that travel time is basically for nothing because a school and county want total control.
There are a lot of stories about athletes who are granted special privileges, but this is a situation in which athletes are penalized just because they are on sports teams.
This is a policy that can no longer be defended. It had good intentions, but a lot was left out.
The policy promotes snitching and allows other students a chance to possibly manipulate school officials. It doesn't look at individual situations, such as should an athlete who didn't drink be penalized as harshly as one who supplies the drugs or alcohol? In certain situations, this policy doesn't allow for redemption.
In one case at Westminster, a basketball player not only missed the remainder of her season, but she also is not being allowed to play softball because the suspension prevents her from participating in tryouts. Seaman has told her she cannot be added to the roster when her suspension is over, according to her mother.
It's a shame, and it's sad. Inactivity (a total of six months in this case) for a teenager can cause a lot of problems. Carroll County officials need to realize that these students are teenagers, and they make mistakes. They have accepted the consequences, but they shouldn't be held to different standards.
County school officials might think they are curtailing the drinking problem, but they aren't. It's just being concealed better. Players are reluctant to talk to coaches and parents about possible drinking problems because of what is at stake. Coaches who are aware of problems are handling it privately, because they don't want to turn in students and lose their trust.
Carroll County superintendent Charles I. Ecker said he will poll teachers, religious leaders, parents, prosecutors, students, law enforcement officials and school administrators for more input and opinions, and hopefully he just isn't giving more corporate lip service.
It's time for a change. It's time to let parents run the lives of their children, and it's time to put educators back in the classroom. Big Brother needs to be put on the sideline in Carroll County.