High school students feel effect of new athletic code

"Sixteen of the 190 South Whidbey High School students who played in a sport this fall were suspended from play for three to five weeks due to poor grades, drug and alcohol use, or other violations of the school’s new athletic code. After that time was up, every one of them took the field again.That is exactly how the new code was designed to work. Revised last spring, the code prescribes a one-year suspension for drug or alcohol violations, unless a student voluntarily admits to a violation and agrees to a drug/alcohol evaluation and treatment program, and to do eight hours of community service. That shortens a suspension to three weeks.In all, six athletes committed violations that had them in trouble with the school’s five-member code enforcement board. Ten students were suspended from play for not making academic standards.Athletic director Brian Kissinger said the school cannot release the details of those violations, and he cautions that no one should assume all six suspensions were the result of drug or alcohol use. However, the code is written in such a way that it prescribes suspensions for only two reasons -- substance abuse and poor grades.As teams enter the winter sports season, the athletic department, school administrators and students are still evaluating the effectiveness of the new code and disciplinary system. Two of the six students suspended from athletic play still have not finished the community service required under the athletic code for violators.After just one sports season under the revised code, Kissinger said it is too early to tell if it will keep student athletes away from drugs and alcohol and encourage them to keep their grades up. It will take at least the remainder of this year for all the school’s athletes to sign the code and to find out what it really means to them. “I would question how familiar athletes are with the code,” Kissinger said.Angela Vosburg, a junior who received a two-week suspension from the cheerleading squad last year for consuming alcohol, said she and other athletes do know what the new code entails. She said it might actually be effective in convincing athletes to stay away from illegal substances and to keep up with their studies -- if it was universally applied.Vosburg said she believes school administrators and coaches are not suspending every student they know to be guilty of violating the code.“It’s really inconsistent. They put in all these rules and never really follow through with them,” Vosburg said.If the school is going to have an athletic code, Vosburg said there needs to be faster, more decisive follow-ups after high school parties which involve alcohol. Many of these parties are well known in the school halls and among faculty, she said, as are the participants.Ultimately, she said she hopes a well-enforced code will make students think twice.“We just need to make the right choices for ourselves,” she said.Making those “right choices” could start with the changes in the new code.The community service portion of the code offers a different and more educational twist than in previous years. Instead of spending eight hours picking up garbage around the schools, students suspended from sports this year were required to give presentations at Langley Middle School about the pitfalls of using illegal drugs and alcohol.District drug and alcohol counselor Judy Thorslund said this kind of community service has a real impact on the middle school students who, in many cases, look up to high school students as examples. Thorslund said she agrees with the aim of the new athletic policy and said she hopes it shapes the futures of at least a few of its violators.“If we can pick up one or two out of 10, we can save some lives,” Thorsland said.All students who are accused of code violations appear before the school’s athletic board, which is made up by the assistant principal, the athletic director, one out-of-season coach, a faculty member, and a student.The lone student member of the athletic board is senior Briony Morrow-Cribbs. She said she attends athletic code violation hearings with mixed feelings. On one hand, many of the students who appear in front of the board are friends or acquaintances, which makes judging their alleged violations somewhat uncomfortable. But, she said, having the hearing process with at least one peer on the board is the fairest way to go.“It’s pretty interesting. It’s like being one of those court shows on TV,” said Morrow-Cribbs.So far this year, Morrow-Cribbs said the board has had little trouble reaching a consensus. She said the evidence is usually quite clear, making a decision for guilt or innocence relatively easy.Whether the board’s decisions are effective or not is a different story. Morrow-Cribbs said she knows of two cases in which a student athlete committed a second violation of the athletic code within weeks of being “convicted” of a first violation.“I don’t know if it’s going to work at all,” said Morrow-Cribbs.Some don’t even hold out as much hope for the code as Morrow-Cribbs. A number parents who supported the code when it was rewritten last spring planned to bring a petition measure to the school board Tuesday night, demanding that high school administrators stop the post-party interrogations that snag code violators.High school parent Pam Reuland said Monday that administrators have better things to do than chase down every rumor and innuendo concerning who might have been drinking at which party.“I got irritated when I heard how much time and energy was going into enforcing the code,” Reuland said. “I was really behind (the code) until I found out what kind of a monster it became.”As one of the petition originators, Reuland said it is time for the school to take another stab at rewriting the code before it infringes further on the rights of students not to incriminate themselves or others. If the school does not do that rewrite soon, she said it and its administrators could easily wind up in legal trouble.Brian Kissinger said athletes will continue to get to know the code through the winter and spring because all coaches have been asked to review it in detail at the start of every season. The review is also helpful because, he said, some coaches will institute even tougher policies than the code."

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