By Don Lynch
From The Argus-Observer for Dec. 18, 1952
“There was no evidence that the athletes in question actually drank any beer,” high school principal Robert McConnaha told me Tuesday.
He was explaining last week’s incident in which several basketball players were temporarily suspended from the team because of their association with an alleged student beer-drinking episode. I had told him that on the basis of the information we had gained in reporting the news, it appeared the affair had been mishandled by school authorities.
Here briefly is what we knew of what had happened:
School officials permitted police to use an office at the high school to question students in connection with the sale of beer to juveniles. Thus the school became by association entangled in a problem that was not a school responsibility except in so far as the violation of athletic training rules might have been involved.
A few athletes were in the party which was said to have had beer in possession. Members of the team were consulted on their opinion and they voted unanimously, according to report, to drop the players, three of whom were first team basketball men.
Two days later the school officials announced that the players had been returned to the squad and said the incident was “closed.”
Many basketball fans and school patrons were concerned with the appearance of the whole affair. Dropping of the players certainly made it appear that they were guilty of some infraction. Their quick return to the team indicated they had received little discipline.
I was concerned along with other people. Tuesday I told the school principal so and sought a further explanation.
It was then that McConnaha explained to me that there was actually no evidence the athletes had participated in any drinking. They were caught in the familiar and often disastrous situation of “guilt by association.”
He further revealed that the school authorities did not overrule the vote of the team to suspend the players. The team members reconsidered their decision and came to the principal asking that the suspended players be returned to the squad, he said.
It developed, McConnaha reported, that the original decision of the team to suspend the players was based not on the incident in question but on a succession of grievances accumulated over a period of a year or so. On reflection, the voting team members concluded many of them had themselves been guilty of shortcomings similar to those used as a basis for suspending the players. They reconsidered and decided the players should be returned to the team.
This is all a somewhat involved situation and it apparently never occurred to the school officials that any further public explanation was needed. They felt the situation had been satisfactorily solved and the matter settled so no further comment was needed.
Normally they might have been right. They are used to handling similar disciplinary problems that occur frequently and never come to the light of public attention.
The difference this time lay in the fact that this incident had come to public attention by a mere coincidence. There was a story of police investigation of the alleged sale of beer to miners. At the same time a sports story noted that some basketball players had been suspended or alleged infraction of training rules. The two stories automatically fitted together and revealed an incident of apparent involvement of athletes in a beer drinking party.
I hope that this further explanation which completes the information will help to answer doubts as to how the matter was handled.
During our discussion “Mac” and I disagreed on one point. I thought it a mistake to permit police to use a school office for investigating an incident that itself had no relation to the schools.
The principal said he would rather have such an investigation run where he would watch it than under police questioning elsewhere. He thought that within the school the matter could thus be better handled for the youngsters involved. He also thought it might be good for the other youngsters to see how easily an apparently trivial escapade could come to police attention.
I doubt it. An unnecessary police investigation in the school --- upsetting the atmosphere within the school and coluding the reputation of the school through needless “guilt by association” --- seems to me to be more damaging than helpful.
But that is simply a matter of opinion. The important thing is that the public had only half truths for its judgment of the basketball player discipline, and then the incident was considered “closed” by the school men.
The public is entitled to know what goes on it its schools. When chance reveals half of the information in an awkward situation, the full information should be provided in order to clarify public understanding.