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HEIDELBERG, Germany — The high school principal was suspended, the athletic director removed. The winning coach was forced out right before basketball championships. Even the superintendent was disciplined.

It’s been a tumultuous month for the Heidelberg School District.

The repercussions began this month after a lengthy investigation into the first football team practice of the season last August. The coach ordered some 80 players to do 200 push-ups to punish them for leaving trash on the field. Two players afterward went to the hospital, apparently with a potentially serious type of muscle damage that can be caused from overexertion.

Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe officials decided the push-ups constituted corporal punishment, which is not allowed — and that district officials did not take proper action when they found out about it through a parent’s complaint.

“The coach committed the deed. The athletic director was next in line. And some disciplinary actions were taken because of inaction,” said a source who was familiar with the investigation but not authorized to discuss it. The discipline, the source said, “goes up to the DSO,” or district superintendent’s office.

Allen Davenport, high school principal, was suspended for two days, according to the source as well as the former athletic director. Elizabeth Walker, district superintendent, also received some sort of lesser discipline, the source said.

Davenport did not return phone calls placed to his office and home last week and again Thursday. Walker did not return a phone call to her office last week. On Thursday, she was out of the office, district officials said, and could not be reached on her home phone.

DODDs cited federal regulations that place teachers’ privacy concerns ahead of a parental or public right to know, even in cases of misconduct.

“Quite often we get requests for information regarding a teacher or coach,” said DODDS spokesman Dennis Bohannon. “Basically, we can’t discuss it.”

Neither the district nor DODDS has addressed the matter officially.

“Appropriate disciplinary actions were taken. That’s about all I can say,” Bohannon said.

Corporal punishment is defined by DODDS as anything used as discipline that causes physical pain, and the school system forbids it. Forced exercise has been found to be corporal punishment.

But when used in an athletic setting, its appropriateness has often been taken as a given.

“To even suggest that 200 push-ups is punishment … to boys participating in football is totally ridiculous,” Lisa Efird, a high school junior’s mother, wrote in an e-mail. “If anything, it seems that push-ups and other exercises are the ‘norm’ for discipline in most of the sports I’ve observed … and why shouldn’t it be? You are teaching the kids discipline while you get them in shape for their impending competition.”

Keri Domko, the former athletic director, said she is still stunned after being ousted Feb. 8, because she had no authority to prevent the push-ups. She was at the practice, and her son was among those doing the push-ups.

“He had no problem with it,” she said. “It’s football. Our cheerleaders probably do that much. In a physical activity, if someone screws up, you don’t make them write an essay.”

Domko — a substitute teacher who supporters say is a dedicated professional who worked 50 hours a week, drove some kids to practice and even cooked for an entire team — has been the only one involved in the case to speak candidly about it.

Former football and basketball coach and gym teacher Brad Shahan, who led the school’s basketball team to five straight championships, confirmed he was not coaching but declined to speak further. But Domko and the source said his punishment was to be suspended from his coaching position for 12 months.

The two teens who may have been injured during the practice apparently suffered from rhabdomyolysis, a rare syndrome in which damaged muscle contents spill into the plasma and can result in kidney failure.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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