NEWS- Western spate: refusing an oath, 30 athletes ousted

On the heels of prom night arrests of 16 students– and with less than two weeks of school left– about 30 Western Albemarle High School athletes are sitting out their shot at state championships because they refused to sign a drug- and alcohol-abstinence statement.

The controversy began after 16 students were arrested at 5:30am on May 28 at a post-prom party on Hillsboro Lane in Crozet and charged with underage possession of alcohol. 

Police responded to a report of a party and bonfire, and they say they observed beer and liquor drinks, and seized a small amount of marijuana. All those arrested were 18 except for one 16-year-old, says Albemarle Lieutenant John Teixeira

A County press release warns that charges of contributing to the delinquency of minors may be filed against the parents who held the party– and that threat has raised an outcry from other parents whose teens attended.

Unlike the party in August 2002, for which George and Lisa Robinson initially were sentenced to eight years in prison for serving alcohol to minors, Western Albemarle parents say the Hillsboro Lane hosts served no alcohol, told the kids there would be no alcohol, and checked tents to make sure.

What the party busts have in common: they closely follow the alcohol-related driving deaths of Albemarle High School students. Brittany Bishop died in July 2002; Nolan Jenkins died May 19 of this year.

Eleven students were arrested at a party Jenkins had attended the night of his death, and Albemarle High Principal Matt Haas asked players who had violated the rules of training to step forward.

On May 26, right before the regional semifinals, the Albemarle lacrosse team announced it was voluntarily ending its season because of the stress of his loss, even though the team had won a quarterfinal match following Jenkins' death.

Should Albemarle's voluntary withdrawal dictate what happens at Western?

Parent Heather Dickey was at the Western party at 2am May 28 to help make breakfast. She says she saw the hosts patrolling their Crozet property with their dogs to make sure there was no alcohol. They blocked the driveway to make sure no one left– and that no uninvited guests came in.

"It was quiet," says Dickey, whose daughter attended. "There was no loud music. I didn't see any alcohol at all."

According to parents of other attendees, some of those arrested were asleep in tents or parked in cars at the private residence of Tom and Lucy Goeke on Hillsboro Lane when the police arrived.

"I think it's a shame," says Dickey,  "They did everything they could to have a safe environment. What are the options? Who's going to host a prom party now?"

Chatter about the arrests prompted school officials to ask all athletes in post-season play to sign statements pledging that they had not broken the rules of training that they and their parents signed at the beginning of the year.

"Rumors spread that athletes may have violated the rules of training," says Western athletic director Steve Heon. "I was notified Sunday morning that we may have some issues."

Heon estimated that approximately 30 players did not sign the statement. "Many came forward before the meeting," says Heon. "They should be commended."

He refused to identify how many students from each team were kicked off. Still in post-season play are the boys' and girls' soccer and lacrosse teams, baseball, softball, and track teams, and individual tennis players.

"I couldn't sign because it would be a lie," says one Western athlete, who spoke to the Hook on condition of anonymity. "I thought it was unfair. I worked for four years for this and didn't get to play. How many senior kids in the past have been drinking but got to play their matches?"

The Western student acknowledged being at another post-prom party where parents took the keys away. "Everyone is taking not drinking and driving very seriously, especially after Nolan," the student says.

Parents of students who attended the Hillsboro Lane party are upset at the Goekes may, in this 21st century climate of alcohol abstinence, be vilified.

"The most admirable people are those who take a chance," says Elaine Knight, a parent who was at the party between 1:45am and 4am. "Did people show up who'd been drinking?" she asks. "Yes. Did some alcohol get smuggled in? Yes. Did some get found and poured out? Yes. We have children who are alive. That's great. The community has to stop looking for someone to lynch."

"That poor woman did everything she could," agrees Jackie Birckhead, mother of a Western Albemarle senior. "It has devastated them. It's wrong."

Birckhead wonders whether she could be arrested if kids who'd been drinking showed up at her house and she took them in.

However, Western Albemarle associate principal Greg Domecq says parents have been overwhelmingly appreciative of the school's "proactive stance" in asking athletes to sign the statements.

"If you take an oath, you live by that oath," says Western parent Rick Behr, whose son was dropped from the Warrior soccer team roster before the May 29 regional quarterfinals. "I'm very proud of him," says Behr. "I back the coach 100 percent for what happened."

Other parents are not so happy about Western's tactics. 

"There are so many kids playing who have drunk," says Dickey. "The ones who were honest are being penalized."

"I'm furious, just furious," says another parent, whose daughter missed the chance to play at the state championships.

Says that athlete, who prefers to remain anonymous, "I don't think going after student athletes is the way to solve this. It's a shame. It's an outrage."

Western Warriors were on a roll– until 30 refused to sign a statement that they had not been drinking.