Prevention, awareness keys to curbing misbehavior on student-athlete road trips
It’s the kind of call no school official wants.
“Something has happened” involving a sports team visiting for competition, a voice says. It could be a simple curfew violation … or worse.
The violations “always concern us,” Nile C. Kinnick High Principal Tari Wright says.
Although “seldom and infrequent,” incidents happen, Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific’s Far East Activities Council Chief Don Hobbs says.
Most recently, five Yokota High School girls violated curfew Nov. 14 during the Far East High School Girls Class AA Volleyball Tournament.
The incident raised questions for school officials and parents:
• What challenges do leaders face keeping players in line?
• What ensures coaches and players know what’s expected?
Those were topics of discussion among officials attending the DODDS-Pacific principals’ annual conference last week in Tokyo.
They were also hot topics at schools throughout Japan.
“No matter what you do … you’re still going to have people who step across the line,” Seoul American athletic director and coach Donald Hedgpath said.
DODDS-Pacific sponsors 19 Far East-wide sports, academic, and arts activities annually.
At taxpayer expense, it flies a set number of students per school and one or two coaches, teacher-sponsors and chaperones to each activity.
In Japan and South Korea, DODDS co-sponsors sports leagues with international schools. Some involve overnight stays.
“I applaud the coaches when they go off on one of those Far East trips,” Hedgpath said. “It’s like their jobs are in jeopardy because of the things that might happen.”
DODDS-Pacific has no regional policy governing behavior and consequences, Hobbs said, adding that for now he’ll “trust the judgment of the individual schools” to deal with misbehavior.
District office administrators say they work closely with principals to prevent and punish misconduct.
When student-athletes misbehave, “We want consequences,” says Japan District Superintendent Bruce Derr. “I fully support the principals.”
Prevention “has to start internally,” Hedgpath said. “Coaches have to set the standard. Players have to be aware of what’s expected. Players have to police themselves.”
The rules are driven home well before the first practice, officials say.
Briefings are made every sports season; all parties also sign standards contracts — documents stating what’s expected.
Such briefings and documents are mandatory for student-athletes, Wright said during a conference call last week with DODDS-Pacific Chief of Staff Jeff Martin, Yokota High principal Richard Schlueter and Derr.
Covered, said Zama American Athletic Director Margaret Warren, are “things that won’t be tolerated, and if these things occur, what procedures will follow,” up to “being sent home at the parents’ expense.”
“You have to make them understand they’re not going to get away with it,” Hedgpath says.
Students and coaches say athletes understand and mostly obey.
“Our coaches want us to keep it real, not do anything bad,” said Robert D. Edgren High School senior basketball player Carlos Whatley. “We have many rules, and it’s good that we have them.”
Players selected for each team, and the resulting team chemistry, play a “big role” in preventing incidents, Hobbs and others said - which might mean leaving a player off a roster because of off-court behavior.
Warren said, “I tell my coaches, ‘If there’s somebody you have any doubt about, you either need to sit outside the kid’s door in the hallway’” on road trips “‘or take somebody else.’”
Student team leaders can help, Hedgpath said.
“That person’s role can involve everything from refocusing a team during a game to ensuring players do what’s expected off-court.”
“If you love the game, then you will obey,” Whatley said. When misbehavior is found, the punitive phase begins.
Schlueter said Yokota — whose procedure is similar to other schools — convenes “an athletic council to review all information … from students, coaches and chaperones.” Then the incident is brought to him.
Schlueter did not set a date when he will make a final decision on the disciplinary action for the five Yokota girls who broke curfew during the Far East volleyball tournament. DODDS officials say they want competitions to continue and will work to keep violations to a minimum.
“We’re proactive, but we’re dealing with kids — and kids make mistakes,” Wright said.
Even though students have been informed of the rules regarding overnight travel for sporting events, incidents still take place.
Here’s a quick look at a few major incidents in the past five years.
1998: A handful of Zama American boys basketball players were sent home from a Far East Class AA tournament at Misawa Air Base, Japan, for visiting cheerleaders from another team in a dormitory room.
2000: Four Osan American cheerleaders were sent home and three players from host Matthew C. Perry suspended for the last three days of the Far East Class A (small schools) Basketball Tournament at Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station for being in the Osan dormitory after curfew.
2002: Five Robert D. Edgren soccer players were suspended for a week and the team had to forfeit two Japan League games for being up after curfew and shaving the head of a teammate during a March road trip to Iwakuni.
2003: Five Yokota volleyball players were suspended from the team at the Far East tournament after breaking curfew and leaving Camp Foster on Okinawa in an effort to visit the school’s football team, which was staying at nearby Kadena Air Base.