BY JOE OLENICK
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — NEWFANE - Newfane High School’s baseball program will be affected immensely by the punishment of the seven teenagers arrested last week in South Carolina.
The boys have been suspended from school until Thursday and will perform 60 hours of community service. Four of them will face Superintendent Christine J. Tibbetts at a hearing Thursday to determine if additional punishment will be needed.
In the meantime, the varsity baseball team will forfeit its first two games of the 14-game season. As a result, the varsity team will begin the season at no wins and two losses, both games officially noted as 7-0 losses in the record books.
There will be no postseason, as the school will not participate in the Section VI tournament. And when they return, the seven players will be suspended for six games from the team.
Parents of the varsity players who were not involved in the Myrtle Beach incident said it feels as though their children are paying the price as well.
“I don’t feel this is fair,” said Bonnie LaJoie. “My son was ecstatic to go down there. He worked so hard. The kids that don’t have anything to do with it are being punished.”
Patty Yurek was one of the parents who traveled with the Newfane baseball team to Myrtle Beach for the Mingo Bay baseball tournament. Losing the games and sectional play was too much.
“It’s a little over the top,” Yurek said. “My son is hanging his head like you wouldn’t believe.”
Concerns were raised over the lack of a competitive team and sectionals. Parents were concerned about how it would affect scholarship chances for any of the varsity players.
They were also concerned about the fate of varsity coach Jeff Kneeland. Kneeland has coached the team for five years and is popular with players and their families.
Replacing Kneeland as coach was never a consideration by the Board of Education, said President James Reineke.
”He’s a class act,” Reineke said.
Kneeland said the Mingo Bay tournament is a trip the baseball team has taken for the past 13 years. It’s a way for the players to get in a few games before the season starts, something that can be a challenge for local teams in April. Because of the timing of the event, usually during spring break, families often travel with the team as sort of a vacation.
So, players aren’t supervised entirely by the team. The players were arrested the night of April 2 for shoplifting sunglasses, ranging in value from $130 to $300, from the Sunglass Hut on the Broadway at the Beach strip in Myrtle Beach. The players weren’t with family while the shoplifting took place.
Kneeland had received a call at about 11:30 p.m. concerning the arrest. He thought it was an April Fool’s joke.
”It broke my heart,” he said.
A judge sentenced the group to community service in Newfane. Kneeland said the judge told the kids they had made a mistake, but the showing of support from family members made an impression.
”He said, ‘you’re great kids, you did something stupid, you’ll learn something from this,’” Kneeland said.
Tibbetts said the seven students wrote apology letters to administration and school board members. While in South Carolina, the seven apologized to Kneeland and their parents.
“They have apologized profusely,” the superintendent said.
To field a team for those six games, junior varsity players will be called up to play for the varsity squad. That situation will be closely monitored, Tibbetts said, to make sure JV players are not completely overwhelmed.
Under Section VI rules, a student athlete can play up to 18 games a season between the varsity and junior varsity levels. Four players who were cut from the junior varsity team will be called back to help fill out the JV roster. But they’ll need five practices before they can play, Athletic Director Doug Ames said.
So, two of the junior varsity games were canceled, but will be rescheduled, Tibbetts said. The team’s season will not be affected, save for the players being shuffled around.
When asked what the district could do to prevent similar incidents in the future, Kneeland and High School Principal Thomas Stack made a couple of suggestions Tuesday night. All kids would have to be with an adult in order to go anywhere while on a school trip and staff should be encouraged to chaperone such trips, they said.
Board members voted 4-2 on Tuesday night to add four staff members to a music department field trip to Quebec. About 75 students will be going to Montreal Thursday through Saturday.
District officials said it may not have been needed, but the extra adults reduces the student to chaperone ratio. The maximum ratio allowed is 10 students for every adult.
“I don’t think having more eyes hurt,” Reineke said.
Tibbetts said the Myrtle Beach incident has affected the school and the entire community. The whole event is disappointing, she said.
But while it was a hard decision to make, the incident needed a strong response, Tibbetts added.
”It has been very difficult,” she said.Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.