The Harbinger Online

Athletes Feel Effects of MIP Policy

It’s 3:45 a.m. on August 3, and Bennett Wendlandt is sitting in the front seat of his dad’s BMW with his head between his knees. He won’t look up. There’s no point. The silence might be difficult, but it’s better than what he knows is coming next.
The yelling. The accusations. The tears. The “what were you thinking” and “how could you lie to me.” The “you’re grounded”. He’d heard it all before, back after the first time this happened. The first time he had been caught drinking.

But he knew this time was different.

This time, he knew it could mean something so much worse than no texting or not going out on Saturday nights. This time, it could mean no more football.

Though underage drinking is not a new problem to SM East, the recent spike in athletes with Minor in Possession (MIP) charges is causing administrative concern. According to Principal Karl Krawitz, there were 60 violations from SM East students last year, an outstanding difference compared to the other Shawnee Mission schools, who only had 30 MIPs combined. Dr. Krawitz also has reported seven MIPs received by East students in the past summer alone, all of them athletes. While many athletes are taking this problem lightly, it is already hitting many sports teams hard. Last year, according to Athletic Director Sam Brown, football, basketball, soccer, golf, cheerleading, swimming, wrestling, girl’s soccer, softball, tennis and track all had to suspend players for receiving MIPs.

“There’s probably not one [sport] that stands out,” Brown said. “I’m concerned about them all.”

And, when it affects them, athletes become concerned about this problem, too. Years of hard work and practice can go to waste after an athlete’s hopes of starting varsity for their last year in high school athletics disappear when caught with alcohol.
Senior Grant Sitomer, after his second offense, will no longer be competing on varsity for the SME swim team this year after 12 years of swimming competitively. Since he was not officially charged with a second MIP, he privately conferred with Dr. Krawitz to plead his case in order to remain on the swim team. However, Sitomer was still suspended for 365 days according to district policy.
“I felt like the school taking action in something that had no relation to the school, like a school event, was kind of stepping out of boundaries and kind of crossing the line,” Sitomer said.
SME Varsity boys basketball lost senior Nick Marak after his second offense on July 4 this past summer. After 10 years of playing the game, Marak will not be playing for East or any other team this season since there are no out of school basketball teams offered in the area. Instead, he’ll be playing rugby this spring with the Kansas City Blues, trying to fill the time he would be on the court with weight lifting and training for a new sport. For these suspended athletes, the time they would have been practicing has to be used for something else, and it’s not always productive.
“You take a kid who gets in trouble, and you take away a structured, organized event, where they’re not going to all the practices and games, that just gives them seven days of the week to do exactly what they were doing before which got them in trouble,” Wendlandt said.

For many athletes, being suspended from a sport only gives them more free time and less motivation to stay out of trouble, and many suspended athletes are beginning to challenge this issue with SM policy. Though for some athletes it only means more time to drink, some others use it as an opportunity to change. Sitomer now volunteers at Brighton Gardens, mows lawns and works at Meadowbrook Country Club in order to fill what used to be practice time with something productive.

Though Wendlandt was suspended and will not play on the varsity football team as planned, he still took Coach Sherman’s offer to remain involved with the team. He attends practices every day that he isn’t working at Waterway to pay for the lawyer his family has had to hire. He’s at every team dinner, in the locker room before every game. And he’s always sitting on the sidelines in the game jersey that Sherman allowed him to keep. Fortunately for suspended football players like Wendlandt, Coach Sherman encourages suspended athletes to remain a part of what may be the only positive in a player’s life. If a football team is a family, they have to keep all the members around even after mistakes are made.

Though teams with suspended athletes will never be the same regardless of how they handle it, teams like varsity football are trying to turn the situation into as much of a positive as possible.

“It’s just kind of one of those things that was just really unfortunate to happen, but it did,” Wendlandt said. “Usually, I’m pretty happy [while watching games]. I try to push through, you know, keep my head up, and try to have people respect me even though I messed up.”

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Hannah Ratliff

Senior Hannah Ratliff is an A&E Page Editor for the Shawnee Mission East Harbinger. This is her second semester on staff. She enjoys visiting new places, watching action movies and being with her dogs. Read Full »

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