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Churchill Carries On

Winston Churchill High School began last week with disappointing news of the girls soccer team forfeiting two games due to an alcohol-related incident.

By last Friday, the Churchill community was hit with much more disturbing news. Churchill students Schmouree L. Fordyce-Williams, 19, and Kevin Curtiss Croker, 17, were arrested on charges including first-degree rape, first-degree burglary and use of a handgun in the commission of a felony.

“Everybody’s upset about the events,” said Laura Siegel, vice president of Churchill’s PTSA. “Churchill has an excellent reputation, and these are unfortunate incidents.”

Principal Joan Benz said there were television crews at the school on Friday, and that the news of the arrests were startling for students and staff. “A small group of kids put a black mark on Churchill,” Benz said. “There’s been a lot that hit the fan here, but we carry on.”

“IT'S BEEN kind of upsetting and disappointing,” said Sharon Bourke, a Churchill PTSA member and former president. “For four years, nothing like that has happened.”

James Collins, a computer science teacher and varsity football coach at Churchill, said some of the students on his team used to be friends with one of the suspects. “They were just in absolute shock,” he said. “I spent a lot of time counseling kids.”

Senior Kyle Smith said that some students were especially hard-hit when news reached the school on Friday. “We had some discussions about it in class,” said Smith, who said some of the students were crying over the news. “A bunch of kids went to counselors to talk.”

Guidance counselors were on hand for students to talk to, and some teachers discussed the incident with their classes, but there were no official school announcements about the incident on Friday.

“I thought there should have been,” said Smith, “just to help some kids who were having trouble with it to talk about their feelings on the whole thing.”

STUDENTS, STAFF AND PARENTS expressed hope that positive developments at Churchill would not get drowned out in the bad news. Results released last month ranked Churchill second in average SAT scores among high schools in Montgomery County, the highest-scoring county in the country. The school is also developing a third signature academy program in international relations, inspired by the success of Churchill’s existing academy programs in performing arts and mathematics, technology and science.

The girls soccer team returned to practice this week, after varsity coach Haroot Hakopian chose to suspend practices for two weeks and forfeit the games against Wilde Lake and Whitman scheduled during the period, said Benz. The team is scheduled to resume play this Saturday at Sherwood.

“I applaud Coach Hakopian. He stood up and did what was right,” Benz said. “I’m not going to say it would be easy to turn your back and ignore it, but he didn’t.”

Benz expressed hope that the soccer incident can turn into a positive for Churchill and for neighboring schools who see how Churchill dealt with an underage drinking incident. “I hope it gives girls across the county a message,” Benz said. “We all were disappointed that the kids would sign an oath and break it.”

All Churchill athletes sign a form stating that they understand the school’s policy on drug, alcohol and tobacco use, and understand the penalties involved if they violate it.

“Sometimes parents go into a tailspin and think, ‘Oh my God, it’s the whole school!’” said Bourke of the PTSA. “Let’s learn from it, let’s learn possibly what’s going on, and how we can prevent it.”

Churchill’s first home football game of the season is this Friday against Wootton, Churchill’s neighborhood-rival. An outdoor movie (“The Others,” starring Nicole Kidman) will follow the game at Churchill’s stadium, and is open to all. The movie is sponsored by DAWGS, an organization Bourke helped start to promote positive, drug- and alcohol-free events for Churchill students.

“[Students sometimes have] a lot of empty time on their hands, and sometimes they make bad choices. We all know what goes on. We want to provide more options for them,” said Bourke. “Will we get every child? Probably not, but even if we can get to a few, that’s my goal.”