Suspension loophole is controversial yet accepted

A swimmer may pick up a lacrosse stick or a cross country runner may grab a baseball bat in order to fulfill their alcohol or drug related suspension before their preferred sport’s upcoming season. (Photos by Matthew Goroff)

Rules are meant to be broken…or maybe just circumvented. In the case of sports suspensions, it is no different.

The chemical health policy states that any student-athlete who violates its rules must serve a suspension for at least 25 percent of a complete season’s games or contests. If the suspension is received towards the end of the season, the penalty will carry over to the next season in which the student participates in.

If the athlete receives the suspension during an offseason, he or she must serve the suspension during the first 25 percent of the next season he or she participates in. This gives the athlete the option of serving the suspension in any sport he or she chooses.

Athletes have used this part of the rule as a loophole. If there is a sports season between the suspension and the student’s preferred sport, students can take on a sport they otherwise would not have played. This is in order to serve out the suspension without affecting their preferred sport’s season.

According to Athletic Director Pete Rittenburg, students taking advantage of this loophole can actually be beneficial to the school’s sports programs. He said that kids often discover they are good at a sport they would never have tried before.

Rittenburg, who coached outdoor track and field last spring, said he had an athlete who joined the team just to serve a suspension and ended up becoming a valuable team member. He also stressed that the athletes are prohibited from games or contests, not from practice, and must still attend the games or contests regardless.

“We’d rather see them in an organized environment than just being out there doing whatever else they might do,” said Rittenburg.

Assistant Athletic Director Joe Campagna, the head coach of the varsity baseball team, also believes that any law or rule has loopholes or ways to get around it but that in this case it is not necessarily all bad.

“They’re paying a price for what they’ve done by playing a sport they don’t want to do,” said Campagna.

One of Campagna’s varsity baseball players is currently using this loophole for the second year in a row to avoid being suspended for any part of the baseball season, said Campagna.

Boys swimming coach Jared Killgoar currently has two suspended athletes on his team. He sees the policy as a definite loophole. His greatest concern is that suspended athletes might involve his other swimmers with drugs or alcohol and get them suspended, too. However, he said that so far the two athletes seem to be responding positively.

“I like to give people the benefit of the doubt,” said Killgoar.

He does believe that the original team benefits more than the receiving team.

Two of Killgoar’s captains, seniors Zach Albert and Sebastian Vasquez, think that the policy may have some negative effects.

“A lot of times, it’s bad because they know that they don’t really have to try too hard in practice,” said Albert. “It can often detract from motivation because the team looks up to the seniors and juniors, and some of them are not trying too hard.”

Vasquez agrees that it is a negative feeling knowing that there are people on his team who do not really want to be there. He thinks it hurts the team dynamic and makes it harder to have good chemistry.

“In the back of my mind, I know that they’re there because they’re serving a suspension, not because they decided that they were going to try swimming and that they want to be part of something,” said Vasquez.

Unfortunately, this would be hard to prove. This makes the loophole difficult to stop, according to Campagna.

“What if a student says to you, ‘I was going to do that sport anyway?’ ” said Campagna. “You can’t read someone’s mind.”

Albert and Vasquez agree that the policy cannot be changed, regardless of whether people like it or not.

“You can’t ask a kid, ‘Are you only doing a sport because you want to serve suspension?’ ” said Vasquez. Rittenburg agrees with Vasquez.

“We’ve got kids moving in and out of sports all the time,” said Rittenburg. “So I don’t feel like it’s part of our purview to just say, ‘You can’t suddenly join a sport just because you have a suspension.’ ”

Matthew Goroff and Alex Johnson can be contacted at [email protected]