Eligibility Matters

Eligibility Matters

One Whitman athlete and two Churchill athletes found ineligible to play interscholastic spots.

Walt Whitman and Winston Churchill high schools were among eight county high schools that had at least one ineligible student-athlete competing in interscholastic sports.

An investigation of the eligibility of the 9,000 interscholastic athletes at the county’s 25 high schools was triggered last month after reports of grade-fixing by an assistant principal at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, said Patricia O’Neill of the Montgomery County Board of Education.

At Churchill and Whitman, said O’Neill, the infractions were administrative mistakes, not deliberate and not part of a pattern. "There was nothing intentional. … This was just sloppiness, or careless errors," O’Neill said.

STUDENTS WHOSE grade-point averages are below 2.0 or who have one or more E (failing) grade on their quarterly report cards are ineligible to participate in interscholastic sports. The county school system gives each high school’s athletic directors a list of academically ineligible students after each report card period. The athletic directors in turn provide these lists to the varsity and junior varsity coaches at their school.

Churchill Athletic Director Pat Fisher said there were two students, each on a different team, who were ineligible for the fall sports season. The coaches, Fisher said, "did not catch the names on the eligibility list."

Fisher would not disclose which teams were involved, except to say that football was not one of them, and that neither student participated in a varsity sports game, and thus there are no Churchill teams which have to forfeit any of their games.

At Whitman, the ineligible player was on the varsity boys soccer team, which had to forfeit two of its early-season matches in which he played. The student in question had a C average, but received two E grades during the fourth marking period last year, which made him ineligible to participate in extracurricular activities for the fall season.

"It was an accident, it was a mistake — human error," said Whitman Principal Alan Goodwin. "The coach has never made a similar mistake in 20 years of coaching."

The student was removed from the team immediately after it was discovered that he was ineligible, Goodwin said.

"KIDS CAN SLIP through the cracks," Fisher said. "It’s easy to not recognize." There is a major push for coaches to submit rosters when games begin in early September. Students may have received a grade change, transferred from another school, or may have attended summer school and restored their eligibility, but summer grades are released within a few days of the ineligibility lists.

Goodwin pointed out that more than 400 Whitman students participate in fall athletics. "Rarely is a mistake made, but it happened this time," he said.

Fisher said that Churchill will likely implement a system in which a coach double-checks the roster of another coach. Goodwin said that Whitman is also taking steps to double-check and triple-check the lists of ineligible students — the athletic director and a school administrator will review the ineligibility lists in addition to the coaches.

"It’s just an unfortunate situation," Fisher said. "It is what it is; we weren’t in compliance with the rules, and we have to be more vigilant."

"These were oversights," said O’Neill. "I know that [Churchill Principal] Dr. [Joan] Benz and Dr. Goodwin won’t let it happen under their watches again. They like to run tight ships."