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McLean Groups Target Teen Drinking

Last spring, coach Jeff Ferrel yanked the Langley High School boys baseball team out of a tournament in Charleston, S.C., when he discovered that several of his players had illegally purchased alcohol on the trip.

"We had some kids who made some bad decisions," Ferrel said. "They had gotten caught so we came back. We were in the middle of the tournament, we had two more games left but we came back."

In a similar situation in January, two McLean High School students attended a McLean-Langley basketball game under the influence of alcohol. According to officer Bill Rowley, resource officer at McLean High School, the students were involved in a car accident after the game that injured both and caused $70,000 worth of damage to the car.

"They just blended in the crowd," Rowley said. "It's common to attend these events under the influence on occasion and they were difficult to find in a crowded gymnasium."

A STUDY RELEASED last year by the Fairfax County Public Schools showed that 53 percent of 12th graders had had a drink in the past 30 days and 31 percent admitted to binge-drinking — consuming five or more drinks in one sitting — in the past two weeks. Among 10th graders, those figures were 36 percent and 16 percent respectively and 21 percent and 7 percent among eighth graders.

To combat underage drinking, the Safe Community Coalition, a McLean-based community group, the McLean Citizens Association and the Fairfax County Police McLean District Station launched a campaign on Tuesday, March 19 designed to hold adults whose homes are being used for underage drinking parties responsible for the teenagers' actions.

Capt. Steve Smylie of the McLean District Station of the Fairfax County Police said at the press conference that police officers would deploy "alcohol stings" against houses where underage drinking parties were suspected of taking place. He added that underage police cadets would be sent to area liquor stores and try to purchase alcohol with their own ID cards. Stores that agreed to sell them alcohol would be cited, Smylie said.

Jan Auerbach, the chair of the Safe Community Coalition, urged neighbors to report parties where they suspected that teenagers were drinking. Lists of addresses where police raided underage parties would also be sent to local newspapers, she said. Auerbach stressed the necessity that "parents understand that it is our policy that they not provide alcohol."

BESIDES LEGAL SANCTIONS, teenagers who were found drinking could face disciplinary measures from their school. For instance, McLean High School baseball players caught drinking during the season are dropped from the team for the remainder of the season.

According to Dr. Don Weinheimer, McLean High School principal, students must sign a pledge promising not to drink or take drugs before participating in extracurricular activities. "What I've told them is that we have a high standard for high school athletes," he said. "You have to go school here but you do not have to participate in athletics."

Weinheimer estimates that only between 35 and 40 percent of students participate in extracurricular activities. The remaining 60 to 65 percent of students would not face school sanctions if caught drinking off school property. The resulting discrepancy in disciplinary measures has sparked "concerns from students who think it is unfair in that respect," Weinheimer said.

STUDENTS WHO do not participate in extracurricular activities have little incentive not to drink, said Melissa Verge, a senior at McLean High School and online editor of The Highlander, the school newspaper. "I think the biggest problem is if you're not involved in athletics you really don't have anything to lose," she said. "If the parents know they're doing it [drinking], they're going to continue doing it because there's no consequences. And a lot of kids who are into alcohol, they're not playing sports."

"They're just loners," said senior Sally Dadju, copy editor of The Highlander. "They're just the ones who are like, 'man let's go get drunk tonight.' Such a program wouldn't get them to stop drinking."