Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

July 5, 2012

Ban delayed on AHS freshmen playing varsity

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff Writer

The School Committee has tabled for now a proposal to ban freshmen from playing varsity sports when an alternative is available to receive more input from students, parents and coaches.

Freshmen will remain eligible to play varsity sports in the coming school year.

The proposal calls for freshmen to be banned from playing on a varsity team except in cases where a sport has only a varsity team. Sports at Andover High with only varsity teams include golf, skiing and gymnastics.

The freshman ban and other athletic policy changes are part of an effort to change the school's sports culture in the wake of last summer's hazing scandal, when two new members of the varsity basketball team were forced to play a humiliating sex game at a summer training camp at Stonehill College in Easton.

"[This proposed] policy does not solve the problem," said parent Carl Grygiel at the School Committee meeting last week. "In fact, it will create more opportunity for exceptions and could eventually push students out of our academic communities to other schools because their opportunities are being unfairly limited."

His comment was met by cheers from a small crowd of parents and coaches attending the 8:30 a.m. meeting.

The committee voted 5-0 to approve all other proposed changes to the athletic policy, including stricter hazing consequences, requirements for teams to perform a community service project and raising the minimum academic standards to a 2.0 grade point average for students to participate in sports.

The grade requirement will not take effect until after the first quarter of the school year in November, said interim Principal Thomas Sharkey.

School Superintendent Marinel McGrath recommended the committee withdraw the proposal regarding freshmen so it can be reviewed by the school council, which is made up of teachers, parents and students. If the council decides to move forward with the change, it would then be brought back before the School Committee.

"A policy of a school system also has to reflect the value of the community," McGrath said. "It does have to have a broader discussion."

The committee also tabled proposed policy changes to ban all Sunday practices and to require coaches to select team captains.

"This is a conversation (about the freshman issue) I am not only willing to have and want to have, I think it is really important," School Committee member Annie Gilbert said. She said there must be more time for research and public input.

The policy changes came about partly through input by the school council, feedback from parents and students and the school administration's beliefs about the developmental levels of students, McGrath said.

Resident Dave Nichols, a former athletic director and health education coordinator for the district, noted Athletic Director Chris Bergeron is leaving and said his replacement should have a say in the policies.

Softball coach Steve Tisbert spoke against the proposed changes to captain selections and the freshman varsity ban.

"Where are we going to draw the line?" he said. "These kids come into the high school with drive. Are we going to take that drive away from them?"