Low standards

The Baltimore Sun

Because of privacy requirements, we'll probably never know precisely how it came to be that Tyler Hibbs won't be pitching this spring for Arundel, or even who made the decision, and that's OK. Sometimes, you don't need to know how the right decision is made as long as it's made.

Precluding Hibbs, who was arrested Feb. 26 on charges of possession of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute and two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia, from pitching for the Wildcats this year is the right decision.

But Hibbs, who was practicing with the team earlier this month and probably would have been Arundel's opening day pitcher, is not playing now only because he's not enrolled at the school and not because he's facing charges that could land him six years in jail and $17,000 in fines.

This is a joke, right? Surely, somewhere, Chris Rock or Lewis Black is behind a curtain waiting to spring a punch line, correct?

No. Apparently, this is the wonderland of high school athletics that we live in, where Florida State, otherwise known as "Free Shoes University," where more than 20 football players were suspended for the Music City Bowl and for the first three games of next season because of suspected grade fraud, gains the moral high ground by rescinding its scholarship offer to Hibbs while the senior was all but cleared for takeoff here.

School officials say their hands are tied.

"From a school standpoint, it's not an offense alleged to have occurred on school grounds," Anne Arundel County schools spokesman Bob Mosier told The Sun's Pat O'Malley. "Athletically, it's not something that happened during the season. And he did not play a winter sport, so playing time is the school or coach's decision."

Talk about your minimum standards. So, by that reckoning, merely managing to stay out of a police log while your sport is in season and steering clear of trouble on school grounds is enough to let a kid play a sport. And who says the schools aren't teaching our kids valuable lessons?

Actually, Greg LeGrand, the Anne Arundel athletics coordinator, makes the point that sports can be an important conduit for kids who might not otherwise be a part of the education process. It's a fair argument, but it doesn't mean those who have to follow team rules to be eligible and to earn playing time can't follow societal laws or at least not be charged with breaking them.

Hibbs' case calls to mind that of Pat Lazear, the former Washington area All-Metro linebacker who was kicked out of Walt Whitman High after he and three other school athletes were charged with felony assault and armed robbery two years ago in connection with an incident at a Bethesda store.

Lazear later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, conspiracy to commit robbery, and was sentenced to 10 days in jail, 30 days of house arrest, three years probation and 150 hours of community service, as well as being ordered to pay restitution.

The punishment came after Lazear was able to enroll at Wheaton High, where he not only played football that fall - wearing an ankle monitor - but was also voted a team captain by his teammates. His coach, Tommy Neal, told The Washington Post at the time: "I'd be a fool to take him off the field. He'll play both ways all the time and do everything for us. Pat sees this as an opportunity to put Wheaton back on the map."

No doubt there are those who will say Arundel coach Bernie Walter would have been a fool to take Hibbs, The Sun's All-Metro Player of the Year two years ago, whose fastball has been clocked in the 90s, off the field pending trial. They would add that Hibbs is presumed innocent and shouldn't be denied a chance to play until his case has been heard in court.

That argument, frankly, is a specious one and misses a very important distinction. The Constitution requires that the government meet a high standard, namely convincing a judge or a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that a person is guilty of a crime, because taking away an individual's freedom is among the highest punishments that can be inflicted.

Meanwhile, the government is only obligated to educate a child, not to offer him or her a chance to play a sport or be in the band or to act in a play or write in the newspaper. Those are all privileges, not rights, and should come with a burden on students to conduct themselves in a way that does not bring shame on themselves, their families or their schools. Besides, if school systems can impose minimum grade standards for extracurricular activities, why can't they insist student-athletes stay out of trouble as a further condition of eligibility?

The state board of education, in consultation with its county colleagues, as well as students and coaches, should draft and pass a code of conduct that applies to all extracurricular activities. Each student or parent would have to sign the code each year as a condition of participation, agreeing not to be arrested and charged with an offense that carries a jail term.

What could be wrong about that?


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