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Policy change gets Geneva up to code

Geneva High School football players run sprints during their first week of practice.
Geneva High School football players run sprints during their first week of practice.

Geneva opened the fall sports season this month with the objective of separating itself from the rest of its Tri-Cities brethren in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division.

Off the field, however, the Vikings are blending closer together with their nearby rivals.

Geneva athletic director Jim Kafer called a revision to the extracurricular code of conduct that creates a more stringent punishment period for students abusing drugs or alcohol "a natural thing."

His Tri-Cities colleagues can attest. St. Charles East, St. Charles North and Batavia officials already are well-versed in similar protocols.

"We hope that acts as a deterrent for kids," East athletic director Mike Sommerfeld said. "They know the consequences, and we're constantly talking with them and reminding them, and our coaches do a real good job of that, too."

Geneva students involved in extra-curriculars, including athletics, now face discipline from drug or alcohol use year-round. In the past, students were subject to suspension only if their offense occurred in-season.

Geneva also changed its discipline structure from calendar days to percentage of games or performances, which seeks to make the punishment more equitable from sport to sport.

Some district administrators learned anecdotally through students and parents that the prior system wasn't a serious enough deterrent.

Under the new code, a student's first offense prompts suspension from 20 percent of the next season in which he or she competes. A second offense costs a student 50 percent, a third offense one calendar year of competition and a fourth offense results in dismissal from all extra-curricular eligibility.

Students in violation of the code also must join a drug and alcohol counseling course.

"We want to teach responsibility and accountably for your actions but we also don't want to eliminate kids from a positive program because they've made one or two mistakes," Kafer said.

At Batavia, AD Dave Andrews finds Bulldogs coaches to be outstanding deputies of the message to make responsible choices.

Andrews may address each student and a parent before the student's first athletic season of the school year, but he can't be a voice of reason in a huddle after a big win or the last practice before a school break. That's where coaches come in.

"It's the daily connections the kids have with the coaches that really stresses the code," Andrews said. "The kids eventually don't want to let the coaches down. They know how dedicated and how hard those coaches work. I've seen it."

Repetition also is the norm at the St. Charles schools. A three-sport athlete, for example, would be required to attend code of conduct meetings with a parent before each season.

Although St. Charles High split into East and North more than a decade ago, District 303 works to keep uniform codes of conduct in the name of consistency. Sommerfeld and North counterpart Dan Dolney often are one another's first calls after disciplinary cases arise, they said.

District 303 also divides violations into Category A and B. Category A misconduct involves more severe matters, including drug, alcohol and performance-enhancing drug use, as well as possession of drug-related paraphernalia. A third offense in Category A results in the loss of extracurricular eligibility. In Category B, which centers more on property and rights of other students, a third offense results in a suspension for one year from the date of the final offense.

Batavia also operates under the three-strikes-and-you're-out rule.

Dolney, who said he called Kafer upon learning of Geneva's changes this week, stressed the importance of open-mindedness in the code evaluation and revision process.

"You learn from new situations that occur and sometimes that might prompt a change. You might learn from a switch in another district and that might prompt a change," Dolney said. "As with any policy, any rule, any philosophy, you do want to sit down and look at it every once in a while."

Kafer, the elder statesmen of Tri-Cities ADs – he has worked at seven schools in Illinois and Iowa since 1977 – has seen a steady pattern of behavior in that span.

"At times it appears to be more of a problem than others, but whether that's really the case or just because you might have a couple of high-profile situations, I don't really know for sure," he said.


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