Athletic Code Critiqued After Swim Team Incident

Written by David Granadier, Kathleen Davis, and Kelsey McClear

This year, they watched. From the stands of Oakland University’s natatorium, the two former state swimmers looked on as 16 of the Seaholm swimmers and divers competed in the pool down below. Beside them, excited parents screamed for their kids and apathetic siblings waited for the meet to end.

Some swimmers dropped times, school records were broken and the team slid into third, as senior Matt Wolkhammer and junior Matt Perham stood on the sidelines at the 2013 swimming and diving Division 2 state meet.

The duo clad in their Seaholm swimming gear, minus their cap, goggles, and fastskins of previous state meets, were unable to compete this year due to their violation of the Seaholm athletic code of conduct.

Both violations involved posting materials on social networking sites.

Perham’s Instagram account provided evidence for his violations.  On the account was a picture of Perham with a cigar and one posing with a bag of McDonald’s in one hand and an empty bottle of vodka in the crook of his arm.

“I do not feel it was fair, with me the first picture I guess proved possession of cigar but it was also last April in Mexico under supervision of my parents. And they also rendered that one not being able to use in the investigation. And then the second two were just bottles of alcohol, I wasn’t even in them,” Perham said.

A posting on Instagram also led to trouble for Wolkhammer, when he uploaded a picture showing himself drinking alcohol.  Seaholm administrators had been shown a picture from his account drinking liquor during the swim season.  Perham and Wolkhammer were individually called into the main office to speak with administrators during the second week of February.  Both believed that they were going to answer questions regarding a bullying controversy.  When they went, they were surprised to be shown the pictures from their Instagram accounts and informed of their suspension.

The information of these infraction began when another incident, involving bullying on the team, was brought to head coach Tom Wyllie’s and the administration’s attention.

While the bullying incident was not connected to the pictures discovered, this prompted a thorough investigation into the team, which eventually lead to the suspensions of Perham and Wolkhammer. The Highlander has confirmed that neither Perham nor Wolkhammer were connected to the bullying incident.

Wyllie was clear that the behavior involving alcohol and substances was unacceptable.

“The one thing that I hope that the swimmers and divers understand is that kind of behavior will not be tolerated in Seaholm athletics and in this particular case, on the swim team,” Wyllie said.  “As soon as we learned of the behavior we took swift action to make sure that the administration new about it and conducted their investigations. There were consequences and a strong message was sent that that type of behavior just doesn’t belong at Seaholm and doesn’t belong on the swim team.”

“They bought up the picture found of me drinking during the season so I basically just accepted whatever they said because by then I already knew I was guilty and I’m not going to lie about it,” Wolkhammer said.  “I’m not going to try to make up something or say it wasn’t me.  I just accepted the consequences that they gave me which was saying that my season is over.”

Matt Perham’s mother, Ellen Perham accompanied him to the meeting with the administration.  She too was taken by surprise.

“Monday morning of break, my husband and I got a phone call from Dee [Lancaster] asking if Matt could come in and answer some questions,” Ellen Perham said.  “My husband and I went with him, and sat down and were slammed with this Instagram thing.”

The code of conduct states, “Students participating in the athletic program are prohibited from the use, possession, or transmittal of tobacco, alcohol, illegal drugs, unauthorized drugs, or misuse of any drug either in or out of season.”

In accordance to the Athletic Code, the suspension that was given to the swimmers lasted for 25% of the season- in their cases, the remainder of it.

“I’m not aware of any time when we have ever taken action against a student that we did not feel was very reliable,” Frank said.  “To me, taking disciplinary action against a student is a very serious thing that has so much consequence not only on the young man or young lady involved, but on the whole team.  It’s something that I would, personally never take lightly.”

Based on research done by The Highlander other districts such as Bloomfield Hills, Royal Oak, and West Bloomfield have similar measures.

Athletic codes of conduct are not just something at the high school level. College athletes are also expected to behave in such ways that don’t affect their performance on any particular sports team or the reputation of the school.

“Each Wayne State University sport has its own Code of Conduct, approved by the athletic director, for its student-athletes,” Jeff Weiss Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations at Wayne State University said.

Birmingham Public School’s athletic code states that a student will be suspended from 25% of their contests in the sport he or she is participating in during a first offense violation. This suspension can carry on into the following season if necessary. Subsequent offenses can lead to a suspension from the team or school for the remainder of their high school athletic careers.

Once the news sunk in, the two swimmers were stunned.

“I just didn’t believe I was pulled into a room at 4:30pm on a Friday and was being told I couldn’t swim for Seaholm again,” Wolkhammer said.  “It’s the end of a long legacy for me, I mean four years is a long time for me swimming on the team.”

Meanwhile, the Perham family took immediate action against the administration regarding their son’s suspension.

After receiving news of Matt’s team suspension, the Perham family immediately appealed the decision to Deputy Superintendent Paul DeAngelis, then Superintendent Dan Nerad and the Birmingham Board of Education.

“Twenty-five percent [suspension] is the rest of the [2013] season, Matt is a state competing swimmer, and this is why my husband and I are fighting this so hard,” Ellen Perham said. “He’s a state competing swimmer he wants to swim in college this is the most important swim meet of his life since he was 4 when he started swimming.”

All three entities reached the same conclusion that the 25% of the season suspension should stand.

Although the swim season is over, the Perhams still openly, and strongly disagrees with the decision that was made.

“Its so frustrating because there’s no where else to go.  You can say we don’t agree and then [the administration] they say okay well our decision and this is what we decided,” said Ellen Perham.

The source of the information and the pictures remains unknown.  However, it has been confirmed that the information was brought to the Seaholm administration; they did not seek out the pictures or information.

“It was an incident that was reported to the coach, then the coach turned it to Mr. Frank, who then turned it over to the three of us,” Seaholm principal Dee Lancaster said.

Seaholm Athletic Director Aaron Frank declined to comment on the swim team’s specific incident, but assured that the disciplinary action was consistent with the rules of the athletic code.

“I can tell you that we had some incidents with the swim team and there was some disciplinary action taken consistent with how we always do,” Frank said. 

 

As for Wolkhammer, he acknowledges the fault in his actions and believes that the disciplinary actions he faced were fair.  He’s focused on finding the positives wherever he can.

“I’m definitely not letting it bring me down, but I’m also taking the consequences and turning them into things I can change about myself, and things I can change about other people,” Wolkhammer said.

Unfortunately for the rest of Seaholm swimming, both Perham and Wolkhammer were state qualifying swimmers. The team was forced to compete without them in the division two state meet.

Perham was seeded 11 in the 100 butterfly, 22 in the 500 backstroke, and could have swam in the first seeded medley relay.  Wolkhammer was seeded 13 in the 200 IM and 3 in the 100 breaststroke.  Wolkhammer placed first in the 100 breaststroke at last year’s state competition.

“[The medley relay] That was ranked first I would like to think that since I was not at it they got third,” Perham said.

The team finished third with a score of 223.5 behind first place Holland (323) and second place Ann Arbor Pioneer (280).  The missing swimmers could have added points to the teams total score, but head coach Tom Wyllie believes it would not have made a difference in the overall standing.

“In terms of looking at the potential points those swimmers would have added to the team, it wouldn’t have raised our total to the point where we would have overtaken Ann Arbor Pioneer or Holland,” Wyllie said.  “And frankly, it doesn’t really matter to me.  What was more important is the message that that kind of behavior just doesn’t belong on the swim team.”

Frank was clear that the athletic code is unwavering and consistent no matter what the circumstance.

“When [information] comes to our attention whether it’s right before the playoffs or a state meet or right before a real important championship playoff caliber game or a seeding event or something, we always have the same course of action,” Frank said.

There are swimmers on the team who feel that the consequences given were too harsh for the entire team and that the administration was overreaching.

“I also don’t think it’s fair that kids should get in trouble for posting pictures on social media sites in school because I think that’s out of the school’s hands,” a member of the swim team anonymously told the Highlander.  “I think if anyone should punish them it should be their parent, not the school and I just don’t think it’s fair what the school did to our team.”

The recent events surrounding the swim team have shed a new light on the code and affected the way other student athletes view it.  Among them, senior girl’s varsity tennis captain Nancy Benda believes that the administration does not have the authority the punish athletes for what they do outside of school.

“I believe that athletes should want to make good choices,” Benda said. “But in the end, their teammates are the ones punished for their wrongdoing.”

The incident taught both swimmers to be more careful about what they post on social media.

“Be careful what you post on social media, everything you do now a days can be recorded and taken a pictures of,” Perham said. “It’s kind of dangerous times to be doing stupid stuff so be careful.”

“I wish I had given my 100% to the team this season like I had done in other seasons.  I wish I didn’t take a picture of anything, I wish that I stayed home that,” Wolkhammer said.  “You can have regrets, but it happened it’s over with I’m just getting on with everything and trying to turn this into a situation where it’s not a disaster story it’s a success story.”

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “Athletic Code Critiqued After Swim Team Incident

  1. Thank you to the Highlander staff for writing this informative and well-structured article. I want to point out a few issues that are not clear in the article. Or objection to Matts penalty had nothing to do with the proximity to the state meet or how the team would do. It was only important to us because we had to try to get the suspension lifted in a short period of time or else Matt would not be able to swim. Sadly we were not successful.
    Here are the grounds to our objection, and what must be made perfectly clear to the Seaholm Student body
    1) The Seaholm Athletic Director and Principal can use a picture posted on Instagram or Twitter at any time from any location as evidence of use or possession of alcohol or tobacco. They don’t have to catch you in the act; they just have to have a picture of you with either alcohol or tobacco in your vicinity.

    2) The Seaholm Athletic Policy makes no mention of digital photos being acceptable evidence. In fact it specifically states use and possession not pictures of use or possession. The Deputy Superintendent agreed that the pictures were not evidence of uses and possession.

    3) When this fact was presented to the administration, they changed the standard for Matts punishment to Exemplary Behavior, which is a great concept, but isn’t actually in the Seaholm Code of Conduct. In fact you will find this standard in the Groves Code of Conduct. A fact that was very surprising to the Deputy Superintendent.

    4) Exemplary behavior is not defined anywhere in Seaholm Policies, but I would presume that there are many pictures of non-exemplary behavior for high school students in the social media world out there today.

    5) The two high schools have different codes of conducts, presumably to give the Seaholm AD more leeway to punish kids for taking stupid pictures.

    In the end an inexperienced Principal and a vindictive Athletic Director made a very harsh and unjustified decision to penalize Matt, a kid with no school discipline issues at all, not even an unexcused absence, to the fullest measure possible despite, universal acknowledgement that there is no policy, there was no proof and the only behavior that needed to be modified was Matts choice of what he posted on his own, personal Instagram account.

    The element of this story that needs to be investigated further is how and why the pictures of Matt where provided to the coach by a teammate of Matts.

    While this part of Matts season was maddeningly cut short but some real poor decisions by adults who should have made better ones, he was able to swim with his club team in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he placed in the top 100 in the 50 free, 100 back and was a member of a relay team that placed 14th in the country. It is too bad he could not enjoy that success with the team he calls his brothers. The Seaholm Maples.

    1. I can’t believe you posted this. We all have to take responsibility for are own actions. That’s what we need to teach our kids and then they have to take the fall. Sorry

      1. How’s that working out for you? Given your situation I can understand your perspective, but the difference is that he did not actually do anything but post a stupid picture. Ever heard the term glass houses? I’ll take my ituation over yours.

  2. After reading the article I was impressed by the one young man who acknowledged his mistakes and accepted his punishment.
    Though I understand that there are technicalities in the language of the code of conduct, it is unfortunate that the other young man will be taught that the consequences were a result of “some real poor decisions by adults who should have made better ones” rather than poor decisions of his own.

    1. IBH …You missed the point. The boy who acknowledged his mistakes, actually made some. There was previous actual, (as opposed to photos) incidents of alcohol abuse and pictures of him actually drinking. I believe he has learned from this experience and we will continue to support him as we have in the past.

      The difference with Matt is, there was never any actual incident. Only pictures from Matts Instagram of magazine ads of liquor bottles, and Matt posing with a McDonalds Big Mac and an empty Vodka bottle. No party, no beer cans, no drinking shots, no actual evidence of anything other than poor judgement in posting photos on Instagram. His parents punished him for that. The school applied their vague policies unfairly and incorrectly in our opinion.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s