Monday, September 27, 2010

Recent Charges, Suspensions, and Reactions

[Super long post, review then commentary, rainy Monday morning, and please if commenting don’t post anything that can’t legally be reported, I’ll just delete it – thanks]

On September 22, the Express-Times released a story on 17 year olds Ryan Krecker and Franco Ferraina, having been charged on September 7 with “felony count of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and misdemeanor counts of possession of a small amount of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.” (read the article here).

The delay between the story breaking and charges being filed was due to the ET having to file a Public Right to Know request with Bushkill Township Police. According to the ET, “Information about juveniles charged with felonies is public record in Pennsylvania.”

The incident the boys were charged with occurred on July 13th. Eight juveniles were at the Jacobsburg Environmental Center Parking lot in two cars when police approached them about 8:15 p.m.

Police smelled marijuana and saw drug paraphernalia in the car while talking. After finding the paraphernalia Ferraina gave police the bag with drugs in it and Krecker admitted to it being his. The two wrote statements acknowledging that they smoked marijuana that evening and earlier in the day had split up two ounces and sold it at the Borough Park. In the bag with the drugs was a digital scale and a wallet with $143 in it.

None of the other juveniles were charged.

Now that the incident was made public, there is a controversy over the school’s response to these students because they are also athletes.

I visited the school Web site and could not find the student handbook. I did find the list of school policies related to Pupils (view it here), but could not find the policy(ies) related to this situation.

According to further articles by the ET (read it here) and the Morning Call (read it here) the school policy for extra-curricular participation is that if the school is aware of an incident outside of school activities that results in an arrest, the school will apply a one year suspension from these activities. However, for first time offenders, there is a program that can be completed which involves parent meetings, community service, and a treatment program/counseling and this reduces the suspension to five weeks.

Both Krecker and Ferraina are members of the wrestling team. The winter sports season begins on November 19. A five week suspension would allow them to return on Christmas Day. The two, though, have gone out for Cross Country this season, a fall sport, which means they will serve their suspension during that season instead of wrestling.

As a result, the Morning Call article (read it here) addresses Board Members who want to change the policy because they view Krecker and Ferraina to be using a loop-hole to beat the system.

From that article, "I don't think that is a fair punishment," Director Jerry Treon said. "I don't think that teaches the students responsibility for their actions if you give them easy way out."

Treon is a former teacher and football coach at Nazareth. The article goes on to say that many agree with Treon, “But the superintendant would rather see students stay involved with sports during their athletic probation, no matter the potential for abuse.”

So with the facts as we know them out there, here is my commentary.

The core reactions I’ve heard can be summed up that because these are wrestlers they are getting special treatment and a slap on the wrist with no ‘real’ penalty because they won’t miss a day of wrestling.

The schools do not conduct themselves as they once did, primarily because the parents of students don’t act as their parents once did. There was a time when the parents believed the word of the teacher, coach, and administrator and worked with them to correct problems. Today, parents defend their child no matter what the child did. Parent’s have threatened lawsuits to keep students eligible for activities or to remove incidents from their student record. Parent’s complain about grades if they aren’t getting top scores. As a result of this, administrators respond differently. Primarily they work toward resolution. It’s the nature of the environment they are in.

One way to get a resolution that appeases parents, is a first time offender program. First time offender policies are commonplace. Typically they involve a reduced sentence in exchange for being educated and/or treated. Nazareth has one implemented and I think Treon’s recommendation that the program be modified to allow a student to only participate in activities that they had successfully (ie to the end of the season) competed in during the prior year is a good one.

Since the policy, program, and opportunity exists, I can’t blame either Krecker or Ferraina for using it. It is not ‘special treatment’ since it is available to anyone in their situation.

Wrestling has been the most successful sport at Nazareth for a long time. It was the first sport that our school could compete against any other school regardless of size and be competitive. I would have to imagine more Division I athletes have received scholarships for wrestling than every other sport combined.

I can’t speak to what occurs today, but during the many years I was closely involved in the program, I don’t recall seeing anyone get special treatment. Instead I saw coaches tutoring and working with students so they would be academically eligible. I saw teachers who were having problems with students in class come to the coaches and talk about it. In short, there was cooperation, not confrontation. There was also respect for the program and the community that was represented. I can remember starters being thrown off and suspended for their actions, when justified. Again, I think the change in the student-athlete is a direct result of the change in the parent’s actions.

The favoritism card is also wielded because so many individuals in the administration are connected to the sport, from the Superintendent, to the vice principals at the HS, the MS principal, and the Athletic Director.  Favoritism due to association will persist, but unless there are actual benefits being received it doesn’t hold much merit for me.

Both these wrestlers, had they have improved on past performance and been leaders of this team would have most likely received full scholarships. Due to the internet, every coach that had an eye on either of these wrestlers is now aware of this incident, because they’ve been charged with a felony as opposed to a misdemeanor. Regarding the penalty, I don’t think we’ll understand the scope of it until we see what happens with these two individuals in regard to a scholarship. There are all kinds of coaches, but I’d venture to guess many more will take a pass on these two in light of this incident than will want to offer one of a limited number of  full scholarships available (10 per team if fully funded, most teams are not).

One component of this that really hasn’t come up is the position these wrestlers have put their coach in. Coaches discipline athletes for any number of reasons. If these wrestlers have already been “punished” by the school through the cross country suspension, what reaction will there be if their coach disciplines them for the black eye they put on the program?

I’d personally love to see Coach Crowell punish them with a five week suspension this season, but I don’t think he could if he wanted to.

The other element of this situation which doesn’t sit well is that two people got in trouble for admitting to their actions and cooperating with police. There were six others on site and all eight were in two cars.  The two names were released because of the felony charge, but due to the existing laws, the public does not know what if anything happened to the others. Being a small town, word gets around regarding knowledge of who was there, but not knowing if they are being charged/punished drives the charges of special treatment.

I’m quite confident these were not the only kids who got in trouble over the summer. Many who did, honestly no one really cares about because they weren’t on a ‘major’ sports team. Is it our perceptions driving this? The kid who wasn’t participating in anything, well, what do you expect look at him, but hey these kids they had everything and threw it away. Why?

Maybe drugs are so prevalent and guidance and discipline so lacking it takes incidents like this to wake some kids and adults up.

I actually feel for all parties and hope these kids can overcome the hole they’ve put themselves in. I have to imagine it will be an experience that will stay with them for many years, and its only begun.

Posted via email from Ross Nunamaker

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

NOC,

Extremely well put.

The black eye given to the school and the program can not be overlooked. Tie this incident together with the NASD alum that lost his full ride at PSU, for drugs I might add, and I am sure that the view of this program and school my major universities has to be a poor one.

It is not the use that bothers me as much as the dealing that they admitted to. These are "star" athletes, dealing drugs to who knows? Could it be your kids?

What kind of signal does this send to the younger kids in the starter programs? You are a wrestler and if you are good we will figure out how to keep you on the mat regardless of what you do?

Do I feel sorry for them? Absolutely not. They made the choice to smoke pot, and worse, deal it. Nobody twisted their arms, they did it willingly.

It is a hard lesson to learn, but one that will serve them well in their later lives. If they are given a pass on this, all they learn is that the system can be bent to suit them because of their talent. But the reality is, when they leave the wrestling world (or any other sport for that matter), the world just doesn't work that way.

Just ask Michael Vick about his time in jail.

NewsOverCoffee said...

To clarify, I feel sorry that they made the decision to take that action, because I understand the impact it will have on the rest of their life.

It appeared from the article that they were 'fronted' the bag to sell. They made the wrong choice. Further, the fact that they were approached to do so in the first place leaves many open questions.

As you say, they are role models to the younger kids, what would the response be if they offered younger wrestlers or other athletes or kids some to try? Probably more accepted than from someone else.

When you are in a public position, any public position, your actions will be more highly scrutinized.

If there is a wide-spread problem in this program, I certainly hope steps are taken to stamp it out.

These kids should get together and listen to what Tom Rohn has to say on the subject - Morning call article available here

Anonymous said...

The fact that they were "fronted" the drugs to sell, tells me that there was potentially a history there and this was not a first time event, but I could be wrong.

If the administration is to turn a blind eye and let these guys off with amounts to a slap on the wrist, what about the next student that falls into the same situation, but maybe not a star?

Regardless of the circumstances, these kids were DEALING drugs. If they were 18 years old, they would have been facing a lot more problems than they are now.

NewsOverCoffee said...

Thanks to the reader who forwarded the policy from the school handbook.

It states that the one year suspension can be reduced to five weeks ONCE the student and parent met with an SAP coordinator, take a drug and alcohol assessment, complete all recommendations from the assessment, and complete 20 hours of community service in an approved program.

After these items occur, then the student-athlete is eligible for the reduction.

The other important aspect is that it states you can't serve the suspension at a level lower than what you were at:

"If the season of participation ends before the 5 weeks have passed, the suspension will be ongoing into the next season of participation. This participation must be at the same level of competition or higher (Example-JV to JV, JV to Varsity, or Varsity to varsity). A varsity competitor will not be able to fulfill the terms of the agreement at the JV level of competition in the same or another athletic activity."

This addresses continuing a suspension into the next season, it does not address joining a new sport that you hadn't previously competed at, but if you haven't competed on that team, how can you know the level you are at?

If it doesn't allow for you to join a new sport and explain how that is done, doesn't it disallow you from doing so?

Charges were not filed until 9/7, this means the two either self-reported themselves to the school or their infraction couldn't have been known by school officials until 9/23 when it became public.

If it happened on 9/23, it would seem they couldn't have yet met the requirements and therefore the suspension couldn't yet start.

Seems the intent of the policy would be for them to begin trying to qualify for the reduction now and serve their five weeks once the wrestling season begins.

If they met the requirements prior to August 16 when fall sports season started it would mean they self reported to the school and met all the requirements within four weeks of the initial incident in July.

Art said...

Maybe a better solution to teach the kids is a tougher punishment for first time offenders. Maybe some real jail time, maybe not, but at least community service of a duration that would preclude any extra school activities for a year.
Our "justice" system is far too lax and does not dole out justice.