The father of an East Aurora High School quarterback who was booted from the football squad with seven teammates for drinking beer says he will go to court to get his son back on the team.
Matthew Plauman, a 17-year-old senior, and seven of his varsity teammates were removed from the team for the 1991 season by Principal Jay Hoagland. The move followed an investigation of reports that the teen-agers had been drinking at two parties in East Aurora over the weekend.
Plauman's father, Frederick, said Friday that he is angry over "the severity of the punishment for a first offense."
"Other players, who were also drinking but did not admit it, are still on the team," he added.
Insisting they did not condone their son's drinking, both Plauman and his wife said there is a serious problem with young people drinking alcoholic beverages in East Aurora. School Superintendent Robert Fort also acknowledged the reports of drinking among teen-agers in the community.
"There are parties each and every weekend attended by a majority of the kids around here, both those on teams and those who are not," Deborah Plauman said. "This community just shies away from the problem and looks in the other direction."
Fort acknowledged that reports of drinking among students are widespread.
"The rumor is rampant around here that you can go to a drinking party at any time you want on any weekend," he said.
But Fort said there is "no second chance" under school policy.
"The rules simply say that if you do this, you will be removed," he said.
Fort also insisted that drinking was the reason for the punishment.
"These boys weren't removed from the team for telling the truth," Fort said. "The fact that they did tell the truth confirms that they are not bad kids. At the time, they did a bad thing."
Fort said the head coach heard about one of the boys drinking from an assistant coach, while the principal was told about the other seven.
The head coach, Dick Petersen,
said the school's policy is not educationally sound, and he backed the players. The policy makes no provision for guidance or counseling, Petersen said, adding that it doesn't take into account the circumstances of the incident.
"It's just expediency. There's nothing in between," he said. "If you get caught, you're history. . . . You're not teaching them, you're just expelling them."
He also spoke highly of those players kicked off the team.
"Those kids are exceptional," he said. "They were asked if they drank, and they all stood up and said, 'I did.'
"I'd recommend them for a job anytime and -- speaking like an old Marine now -- I'd share a foxhole with them anytime."
The uproar over what has happened should cause the school to take another look at its policy, he said.
"I hope that out of this will come some good," Petersen said. "They (the former players) are paying dearly for an error in judgment."
Most, if not all, area schools have policies concerning drug and alcohol use by athletes, according to Chuck Funke, chairman of the Section VI Football Federation. East Aurora's policy is not unusual in its severity, he added.
However, Funke, former athletic director at Iroquois Central, said the policy there calls for an automatic two-game suspension and then a mandatory assessment of the student's behavior, followed by treatment if necessary.
"It's flexible, depending on the circumstances," he said. "Was it (student drinking) at a Friday night party, or was it at 10 o'clock in the morning? Was it a one-time thing, or does the kid have a problem?"
Petersen said he also is concerned that the three seniors involved will have less of a chance of getting into the college of their choice. None was considered a candidate for Division I football scholarships but playing a varsity sport can enhance a student's chances of getting into college, he pointed out.
The father, Frederick Plauman, said, "I will follow this thing through until the last dog is hung."
While he said he and his wife do not condone their son's drinking, Plauman also argued that, technically, his son was not on the team because consent papers to play football had not been signed by either his son, himself or his wife.
"What my son did was wrong, but the school is also wrong," he said. "They failed to make sure the players were signed on and had their parents' signed consent. . . . Matt didn't actually sign up until Tuesday, after the drinking incident."
Fort refused to reveal the identities of any of the suspended players.
Principal Hoagland's decision was supported by both Fort and the Board of Education in a special session Friday morning.
"This is not the first time a student has been removed from a team for violating one of the three definite 'No's' -- drinking, drugs and smoking," Fort said. "It's just that this time there were so many students removed from a team at one time."
As for other team members who may have been drinking but did not admit it, Fort said:
"They will have to live with the fact that they are on the team in a corrupt way. If the parents know their children lied, the parents should take the kids off the team of their own initiative. They should not wait for the school to act."
And Fort said the school "has many programs aimed at coping with the drinking problem."
He pointed to a social worker, supported by school, village and town funds, "who works with kids at risk."
Mrs. Plauman said that "hopefully the good that will come out of all this is that this community will acknowledge that we have this problem and get together to do something about it."