It may just have been an oversight, but a new set of guidelines aimed at standardizing punishment for high school students who drink and do drugs at a public school in Vermont appears to single out athletes.
According to a piece in the Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus, a new regulation in the Montpelier High School student athlete handbook creates a set of standardized punishments if a player is caught using alcohol or drugs. For a first offense, an athlete receives a three-game suspension. A second violation will cost a student five games, and a third will land he or she on the bench for seven games. If a student athlete does reach three offenses, a principal's committee is also called in to meet with the student and talk about ways to change his or her behavior. During any suspension the athletes are forced to continue attending and participating in practices, they just can't play in games.
Those punishments are well within the lines of reason. The issue is that right now they're only being enforced on athletes, rather than all students involved in extracurricular activities. A first-chair tuba player who gets caught with a bottle of whiskey can still return to participate in his end of the year concert a week later, but a starting pitcher caught under the same circumstances might miss a playoff run.
That disparity was raised at recent school committee meetings by a former Montpelier high school coach and teacher, Roger Crowley. According to the Times-Argus, Crowley was one of the more vocal dissenters at a meeting discussing the new student athlete handbook:
Why aren't we trying as hard to help ALL our students learn the value of lessons outlined for the student-athletes? A student caught drinking at a partycan attend the school dance, participate in the spring concert, but an athlete has consequences and special attention is given to helping him/her figure it out and do better. Why can't we help all students in this way?"
Crowley said the people on the committee heard him out.
"They were receptive and tolerant of my ‘old man' views," he said. "But the objective of the committee was to create a comprehensive athletic handbook, and Mr. Evans (the principal [Peter]) said he would follow up my ideas when he creates new committees on co-curricular activities."
If Evans agrees with the contradiction in punishments, perhaps the bigger question is why a new student handbook is being released ahead of similar guidelines for all "co-curricular activities." Considering the fact that co-curricular activities would include athletics, there's no reason those guidelines couldn't be set up first, and include a change in regulations for student athletes as well.
The fact that athletes are getting singled out isn't lost on the students themselves, either.
"I think athletes should follow the rules," said sophomore Logan Lamb. "But everyone else should, too."
Lamb, who last year was the only freshman to crack the first line on the girl's hockey squad, added, "Band, for example, is as much a sport as, say, hockey. They represent the school and they're doing something they like."
Maybe the Montpelier High punishment disparity will be sorted out soon, and all students will be brought under guidelines like the ones now focused on reprimanding athletes who behave badly. Until then, it's sure looks like athletes in at least one Vermont school are being punished more vigilantly than their peers, and that feels unfair.