ROCKVILLE – Changes to preparation for sports seasons now include anti-bullying and anti-hazing emphases, and coaches must follow a template in creating plans for supervision.
During a Montgomery County Board of Education meeting on Aug. 29, Montgomery County Public Schools Director of Systemwide Athletics Jeff Sullivan summarized the changes that are occurring in athletics leading up to the fall sports season.
“I talked about our enhanced safety and security plan (…) and I spoke to the fact that we rolled that plan out last year,” Sullivan said after the meeting. “And that this year it’s been enhanced by adding the security team leader as somebody that is part of that team and that collaboration, really defining what reasonable supervision looks like, and a common-sense thought around that.”
During the past school year, MCPS created a plan to improve supervision of student-athletes, called the MCPS Athletics Supervision Action Plan, first reported by news website Bethesda Beat. The plan outlined requirements for coaches of all sports teams, like creating supervisory plans and time commitments of supervising athletes before and after practice. The pre-sports season meeting that is mandatory for parents and guardians of all athletes must include information on supervision locations and times. Coaches must also include contingency plans in case they are unable to supervise the athletes at a given time.
When asked who will oversee the plans, Sullivan said staff in district wide athletics may visit the schools. MCPS requires the coaches to send the completed supervision plan templates to the athletic directors for approval.
According to the action plan, coaches specifically, paid coaches are to be supervising and must know where athletes are at all times. If a volunteer coach is supervising athletes, he or she may not do so alone, but must have a paid coach present.
In addition to examining the supervision issue, coaches and athletics staff looked at hazing education.
MCPS now requires coaches to include information about preventing bullying and hazing in preseason presentations for the athletes. Hazing was an issue at the time of the alleged first-degree rape incident in a Damascus High School locker room on Oct. 31, 2018, as described in court.
Superintendent Jack Smith wrote in a memorandum to the board of education before the Aug. 29 business meeting that the review of supervision plans and of anti-hazing and anti-bullying presentations was the result of findings from the alleged rape of students in the Oct. 31, 2018 locker room incident.
“Given the incident at Damascus High School and indicators of a need for more consistent supervision, coaches reviewed their supervision plans and anti-hazing and anti-bullying education of students and staff,” Smith wrote in the Aug. 29 memorandum.
Damascus junior varsity football players were accused of sodomizing their teammates with a wooden broomstick, a practice which the suspects and alleged victims called “brooming,” while the players got dressed for practice on Halloween day. Outcomes of the suspects’ cases have not been made public because Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Steven Salant ruled to transfer their cases to juvenile court.
While the cases were still in criminal court, the suspects and alleged victims wrote in statements, which were shared in court, that “brooming” was a tradition within the team. Court witnesses with backgrounds in psychology and psychoanalysis and who were called by the defense said two of the then-defendants in the case said that they had been “broomed” as members of the team during the year before the incident.
Smith said at a news conference in spring 2019 that an MCPS investigation of supervision of the Damascus junior varsity football team on Oct. 31, 2018, determined the students were unsupervised for about half an hour.
Smith had a subsequent external review conducted in the wake of the Damascus case and said MCPS staff will follow the recommendations that would come out of the examination. Smith did not say if MCPS received the recommendations and if or when a report on the review will become public.
Sullivan said on Aug. 29 that MCPS is working on improving the supervision plans for athletes, and part of that involves informing parents and guardians about them.
MCPS requires coaches of athletic teams to create supervision plans for before, during and after practice and before, during and after contests, and submit them to the athletic director, according to the Supervision Action Plan. The athlete’s parent or guardian must attend a pre-season meeting, and coaches are required to include information about pickup and drop off times, according to the MCPS Athletics Supervision Action Plan, dated February 2019.
Sullivan said 2019 is not the first year the parent and guardian meetings were mandatory, however.
The action plan’s pre-season changes to supervision affect athletic directors, as well. Smith said during the Aug. 29 Board of Education business meeting that all MCPS athletic directors received training for one day at Clarksburg High School during the summer.
Thomas S. Wootton High School Athletic Director Alton Lightsey said he appreciated the training.
“I just think that Jeff Sullivan and the athletics department at MCPS has (have) done a really good job just sharing with us what they’d like to see,” said Lightsey. “I think every school has implemented a good supervisory plan.”
Bewell365, a wellness program being rolled out by MCPS this year, also includes anti-bullying and anti-hazing education. MCPS has not said the program is connected to athletics.
Smith wrote in a letter to the Damascus High School community that MCPS received a subpoena for complaints by students by the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office, and that the school system was sending affected students’ records to the state’s attorney.
The state’s attorney’s office has made no announcements of any findings of the investigation.