Athletes? parents protest suspensions, call for equality in school policies

A group of parents showed up at the Oct. 8 Oxford School Board meeting to protest the recent suspensions of student athletes who got in trouble for drinking alcohol, doing illegal drugs or using tobacco products at some parties around town.
Mark Stepek, president of the athletic boosters, a school board candidate and a local attorney, led the charge and stood in defense of his son Blake, who was one of two varsity football players suspended from play for three games. Stepek told the board he objected to the suspensions for several reasons, but the first being the the code of conduct’s inherent ‘inequality.?
‘Athletes are held to a higher standard, yet other extracurricular activities don’t have that same cloud over them, band, robotics team, DECA whatever other organizations don’t have that,? he said. ‘It only applies to athletes. That’s an inequality that shouldn’t exist.?
Stepek also objected to the school administration coming into his bedroom and trying to run his household by making decisions he should be making as a parent.
‘The events that took place (were) at a private party, not a school function, not on school grounds. There were no charges brought. Nobody was arrested,? he explained. ‘What business does the school have to come in and take (over) my parental responsibility? If my child was there and did something wrong, it’s my job as a parent to sanction him, not the schools to come in and administer the rules of my home.?
His final objection was to how the administration handled the investigation. He didn’t feel it was appropriately done.
‘They brought in all these minors, bullied and lied to them, questioned them without parents present,? he said. ‘I object to that.?
Because of these injustices, Stepek asked the administration to overturn the three-game suspensions in order to allow his son, who’s already missed two games due to the suspensions, to play in his final home game on Senior Night, which was Oct. 10.
Stepek wasn’t the only one who felt the administration was overstepping their bounds, fellow parent Matt DeLong agreed. He felt it was ‘ridiculously overreaching? that the district wants to try govern a child for 365 days a year. He was referring to the Parent Student Athlete handbook which states the code is in effect for a whole year, ‘which includes vacations, summer recess and off-season times.?
Like Stepek, DeLong felt it was unfair for the policy to only apply to athletics and not all school competitive organizations and clubs.
‘I would implore you to look at this policy and overturn any and all the suspensions until you can come up with a policy . . . (that) governs all, that’s equal. That’s exactly what this country is about is equality,? he added. ‘No one organizations should be held to a higher standard or a lesser standard, we’re all equal. That’s what we’re about and that’s what I believe.?
Blake Stepek also addressed the board. He read a letter that he had wrote to Athletic Director Mike Watson, in the hopes of having his suspension overturned and outlining the lessons he has learned.
‘The situation has affected a lot of people and it’s not your fault. I completely understand what I did was wrong that weekend. I made a bad judgment call by going to this party. I screwed up. I’ve been thinking about all of this and how I am going to change the way I process information before I make decisions. Least I can say is I have learned from this,? he wrote to Watson. ‘As a captain, I have to lead by example and I have failed in that here. This error in judgment has helped me get a grip on reality and now I have to devote myself to lead better and help protect my team from going to these types of parties and tarnishing the great name of Oxford.?
Trustee Kim Shumaker, who is a mentor for Oxford’s Robotics Team, TORC, said they do have code of conduct handbook they designed for the robotics team and have ‘disciplined and dismissed students with the support of administration.?
‘There is another group that lives by some tight standards,? Shumaker added.
As for the request for Blake to be able to play in last Friday’s game, Skilling told this reporter that the suspension would remain place, but that Blake was allowed to walk on the field for Senior Night because he was still on the team.
To the parents who believe their son or daughter is being discriminated against as a student athlete, Skilling said, ‘Absolutely, because they are held to a higher standard.
‘The issue here is the parents and the student athletes sign off on the parent-student athletic handbook. The parent is in it because they’re both signing on it and agreeing before the season begins to abide by the rules and if they don’t these are the consequences,? he said. ‘It’s an opportunity to hold the student athlete accountable in a disciplinary form where we’re educating and they’re learning there are consequences for poor choices.?
However, concerning the requests for a handbook that encompasses all clubs and organizations, Skilling said, ‘It’s something we need to do.?
‘By next school year, we will have a co-curricular handbook in place,? he said.