A Lose-Win Situation

By Staff

Athletic Management, 15.2, February/March 2003, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1502/wulosewin.htm

When the Marquette Catholic High School football team in Alton, Ill., won its 10th straight game this fall, the Class A school believed it was headed for its first state championship. Instead of sweeping the states, though, the team lost in the second round, 63-0, after 14 of the team’s 17 starters were sidelined for attending a party where alcohol was being consumed by minors.

“Our student activity code says that students will be subject to disciplinary action if they attend an event where underage consumption is taking place,” Marquette Catholic Athletic Director Jerry Montague explains. The penalty for a first offense is suspension from the next 25 percent of the team’s contests.

The students signed statements at the beginning of the year agreeing to abide by the rules in the handbook. Their parents signed agreements, too.

In 1998, however, when neighboring Bethalto High School suspended nine football players for drinking at a party, outraged parents accused the school district of jeopardizing their sons’ scholarships. The parents sued and obtained a court order that put the penalized athletes back on the field.

Montague says the 1998 case crossed his mind, but didn’t influence his decision. “The principal, the assistant principal, the coach and I met for about five minutes,” he says. “We determined what the activity code said and simply followed the procedures. I got out my fall eligibility list and my marker and just started crossing off names.”

The coach communicated the consequences to the players, and the job of telling their parents was left to the suspended players themselves, Montague says. The community got the news via the town’s morning newspaper. Several parents called Montague in the following days, and he was careful to take the time to talk with each one.

Montague believes having an airtight written policy and something signed by students and parents before the situation came up was key. “Everyone starts out on the same page,” he says. “Our parent body knows that we have a code, and what good is a code if you don’t enforce it? I believed they would support us.”

He was right. When Friday night’s playoff game rolled around, the suspended players were there to cheer for their teammates, even though their coach had given them the chance to opt out of attending. The community came out, too.

“We had twice as many people at that game as usual, and every time we picked up two yards, you would have thought we’d scored a touchdown during the Super Bowl,” Montague says.

“It was a hard lesson, but it turned out to be a positive thing, because we refused to sweep the situation under the rug, even for a championship,” Montague says. “I can’t reiterate this enough: Your policy isn’t worth the paper it’s written on unless you stand by it, even when that’s tough to do.”