In each of the Weyauwega-Fremont School District’s last four school years, the number of students suspended for violating its athletic code has been cut in half.
For the second consecutive school year, there has been a handful of suspensions for code violations.
“I like the way things are going,” said Matt Wilbert, who is the district’s middle school and high school principal.
It was about a year ago that the district began working on an update of its athletic code.
“We decided as a group to rewrite our athletic code. We felt ours needed more teeth,” said Jeff Fahser, who has been W-F’s athletic director since late November 2010.
The result was the adoption of a new code, which went into effect with the 2011-12 school year.
Fahser credits Mike Hansen, a W-F High School teacher, coach and the district’s former athletic director, for starting the momentum to update the code.
Life of an Athlete
A couple years ago, Hansen and Wilbert attended the American Athletic Institute’s Life of an Athlete program.
The program began in 2000 as a way to impact the use of social drugs by athletes at all levels of sports.
It focuses on all of a community’s stakeholders and seeks to ensure programs of excellence and to reduce social drug use by athletes.
The training program includes information about how alcohol, cigarettes, chewing tobacco and marijuana affect an athlete’s performance.
“For every night a student drinks, they lose 14 days of previous training,” Wilbert said, citing one example.
After attending the program, Hansen returned to the district and asked others if they thought W-F’s athletic code should be written.
Wilbert said they also did an anonymous poll of the teens to find out their involvement with alcohol. That was two years ago.
“We found out that we better do something,” he said. “The data showed that the involvement with the alternative scene was higher than what we thought.”
In April 2011, Hansen, Wilbert and Fahser were joined by fellow W-F teachers and coaches Pat Fee and Rena Tomaszewski in attending a two-day Life of an Athlete training program at Lambeau Field.
The emphasis of the two-day conference was improved school athletic performance, higher coach and team standards, leadership and athletic conference networking.
They took the W-F district’s athletic code along and soon discovered that it was not as specific as it could be.
The district’s rewritten code is based on the single code that is being followed by every school in Manitowoc County.
“We’ve taken a stance that something is going to be done about it,” Wilbert said.
The new code addresses not only alcohol drugs but also student conduct. The students and their parents learned about the new code during parent/student meetings.
Fahser said every student is now required to attend such a meeting in order to participate in a sport.
Three such meetings were held this school year.
W-F’s new code
The code states that participation in co-curricular activities is a privilege, not a right and that the students have responsibilities to themselves, their academic studies, their school, their community, to others and to younger students.
“As a co-curricular participant it must be understood that this code of conduct program is not designed to be a punishment but a deterrent to your becoming involved in the risky and dangerous behaviors. It is also to insure that you have the best possibilities to succeed in your activity and to learn the valuable lessons that co-curricular activities can teach.
“Because you’re mental and physical well-being is essential to your success we want you to reach your full potential. Therefore, we are asking you to become an active part of the solution, not to become part of the problem,” the code states.
Wilbert said the new code covers a wider variety of subjects, because things have changed.
For example, prescription drug abuse and texting while driving are now part of it.
“In the new code, the punishments are definitely higher than the old punishments. They are stricter,” he said.
The consequences have increased. “We now have a permanent exclusion from sports,” Wilbert said. “For academics and attendance, there is a higher standard than before.”
Today’s consequence for the first violation of the code is an automatic suspension from the competitive team for 25 percent of that competitive season’s scheduled contests.
If the violation is related to alcohol or drugs, the student is required to receive an alcohol/drug assessment, which is provided at no cost by a licensed independent agency secured by the W-F district.
The consequence for a second violation is an automatic suspension from the competitive team for 50 percent of that competitive season’s scheduled contests.
The consequence for a third violation is automatic suspension from all W-F competitive teams for one calendar year, and the consequence for a fourth violation is automatic suspension from all co-curricular activities for the rest of the student’s high school career.
W-F’s co-curricular code of conduct also incudes an honesty clause – something that not a lot of districts have as part of their policy, Wilbert said.
Students are expected to be truthful, forthcoming with information and cooperative.
“You try to convince the student to do the right thing, because it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Wilbert said WIAA gives school districts local control for writing such policies.
“Some schools are higher; some schools are lower,” he said. “We now have further penalties where they could lose officership in school. They could be stripped of those roles, too. They could be ineligible for dances, (homecoming, prom) court.”
If an athlete violates the code, the student is expected to attend practices and finish the season, Wilbert said.
“We think that’s important, to still be with the team and participate because of the positive environment,” he said.
With this spring’s publicity about the penalties parents face when they host underage drinking parties, Wilbert believes fewer parents are hosting such parties.
This school year, a new homeroom program was also implemented in which the focus during the first 15 minutes of the day is on life skills, grade checks, relationship building and service projects.
Wilbert credits the teaching staff for the role they play in working with the students daily.
“Our student body this last two years, we are just really pleased with them,” he said. “They are making good choices.”
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles, examining the costs and consequences of alcohol abuse.