Punish player, not school, for residence violations

THE BALTIMORE SUN

SOMETIME tomorrow, the Glenelg High athletic department will throw itself on the mercy of the Howard County rules and infractions committee. Members shouldn't hold their breaths.

Glenelg's athletic director, Mike Williams, will ask for the committee to show leniency in the case of a student who ran track and played on the football team the past two years but was found to live not only outside the school district, but also outside the county.

If the past is a reliable indicator, committee members - a principal, an athletic director and another school administrator - will listen attentively and nod empathetically. One member may even furrow his brow, while another strokes her chin thoughtfully.

At the end, however, the committee probably will drop the hammer on the Gladiators and force them to forfeit 17 wins the football team earned over the two years the student played. It's unclear what the effect might be on the track team.

The Howard County group will have no choice, thanks to guidelines suggested by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, the committee without pity. When rules are violated, MPSSAA virtually always goes with the Queen of Hearts' approach from Alice in Wonderland, namely, "Off with their heads."

By all accounts, Glenelg has done all that could reasonably be expected in this matter. When the violation was discovered, the school reported itself to the proper authorities. School administrators didn't lie, didn't obfuscate or attempt to assign blame to anyone else.

And for all the honor and honesty, the Glenelg team probably will have to vacate its appearance in the Class 2A regional semifinal last season and a regional championship appearance the year before.

Seems unfair, doesn't it? It only seems that way because, well, it is.

In a perfect world, the committee would tell Glenelg that the shame and embarrassment was enough and that everyone should try to be more diligent the next time.

But in the real world, the committee has no choice but to force the forfeits, because to do otherwise would bring the wrath of the Wilde Lake community, which suffered through the forfeiture of five games last February, when that school was found to have a player who lived out of the district.

And as any parent will tell you, if Johnny gets grounded for missing curfew, then Joanna has to be grounded, as well, even if one was caught in traffic trying to get home while the other was helping care for a sick friend.

In other words, both schools had legitimate excuses for the violations - namely, they were lied to.

At Glenelg, the school was presented with 13 documents that had a false address on them, and officials took the kid and his parents at their word about where they lived.

"You have to hope people will be honest. How can you absolutely verify every address?" Williams told The Sun last week. "No one's happy about this, but there's nothing anyone could have done to prevent it."

What, indeed, should Glenelg or Wilde Lake, or any school, for that matter, do when a new kid shows up for school, claiming to live in one place, when he or she lives somewhere else?

It would be nice for someone at the MPSSAA to explain what might be done, in view of its take that ineligibility is ineligibility, with no exceptions or mercy to the schools.

The state governing board also should decide on what happens when, for instance, divorced parents who live in separate jurisdictions share custody of a child. Where does that athlete get to play? And how do you define the home district for kids who attend magnet schools?

Now, let's not be naive. There certainly are coaches who knowingly accept, and in some cases encourage, kids bending the rules about playing for one school while they live in another's district. When that happens, the coaches should be dismissed immediately and tagged with a show-cause order, forcing any public school that wants to bring them aboard to prove no one else can do the job.

But the preponderance of guilt lies with parents, who should know better than to cheat the system at the expense of innocent kids.

It's time that the MPSSAA dealt seriously with the real guilty parties, particularly when the schools have played by the rules.

The Glenelg sophomore who caused the violation not only should be banned from competition in Howard County, but also, the MPSSAA should declare him ineligible to play for any other public school in the state for the rest of his scholastic career. And a record of this infraction should go into the kid's transcript.

It's better that one selfish kid and his conscience-deprived parents should pay the price for cheating than a team and a school that placed its collective trust in the wrong place.

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