N.Y. Orders Yonkers To Suspend Sports After State Probe
In what experts call the first action of its kind nationally, the New York State Education Department has ordered the Yonkers Public School System to suspend all interscholastic athletic programs until it demonstrates that its management of the programs has improved.
The state took the action after conducting an extensive investigation of the death of Fernando A. Guedes, a student who was permitted to play for the junior-varsity football team at Yonkers High School despite a history of heart ailments.
People familiar with scholastic athletics nationwide said the suspension probably marked the first time a state had halted a district's athletics program on the grounds that it inadequately protected the health and safety of the players. On rare occasions, sanctions have been used in response to athletic-recruiting violations, the experts said.
Officials in the district--the fourth largest in the state--said they have taken steps to improve the administration of sports programs in the system's five high schools. On Dec. 30, the day after the suspension was announced, the state gave the district permission to continue the boys' basketball program. State officials said they would decide on a sport-by-sport basis if and when the ban should be lifted.
The state investigation found that "endemic problems within the system," including a breakdown of accountability in the district's administration, had enabled the Guedes youth to play for the team even though he never underwent a physical examination and he did not obtain parental permission to play.
Regulations in New York and most states require that all students pass medical examinations before they are permitted to compete for a place on interscholastic sports teams. A Yonkers regulation requires students to show that they have their parents' permission to join a sports program.
'Breakdown' of System
The district's superintendent, Joan M. Raymond, said she also conducted an investigation of the death and concluded that "a complete breakdown across the system" was responsible for the student's joining the team without proper medical and parental authorization.
Michael Willie, director of the state education department's division of physical education and the official who conducted the state inquiry, said the state does not plan to take any disciplinary action against Yonkers school officials. Ms. Raymond formally reprimanded seven district officials, dismissed some of them from their coaching positions, and transferred some of them to other schools in the system.
The former director of physical education, Henry Monaco, and two teachers, Ronald Santavicca and Angelo Petrone, said they would file suit in a state trial court charging the superintendent with defamation of character. Shirley Richardson, Edward Magat, Mr. Santavicca, and Mr. Petrone, who are all teachers, have filed grievances with the district because of the reprimand, according to an official for the Yonkers Federation of Teachers.
Meanwhile, the mother of the 17-year-old victim said she plans to sue the city and the school district. Lawyers for Hilda Guedes filed a notice of a claim with city and school officials, charging them with responsibility for the September death.
Mr. Guedes died from heart failure during a football game at Scarsdale High School on Sept. 24. An autoposy revealed that his heart had failed "because of too much effort demanded of it."
The student transferred to the school this year when he moved from a foster home back to his mother's home. Officials at Mount Vernon High School, which Mr. Guedes had attended before moving to Yonkers, said the youth was not permitted to play football or take part in physical-education classes because he failed physical examinations.
Mr. Guedes had a "pre-physical" at the Yonkers school after team practices had started, Ms. Raymond said. That examination tested his eyesight, hearing, and urine content.
Kingdon Locker, a lawyer for Mrs. Guedes, said a cursory examination of the youth should have revealed possible health risks in playing football. "If they had him take off his shirt it would have been obvious," he said. He was referring to a large scar on Mr. Guedes's chest, which was the result of surgery.
According to Mr. Willie of the state education department, Yonkers officials incorrectly told state officials in two affadavits that they had met several health and safety requirements in administering their sports programs. The affadavits were signed by Ms. Raymond and Henry Monaco, then the director of physical education for the district. Those reports were approved by state officials.
The state's inquiry found that only 439 of the 865 students involved in athletics programs in the district's five schools last fall had undergone a physical examination before team practices started. Fifty-eight students had physical examinations before the first day of school, 197 had examinations before the game in which the student died, and 145 had examinations after the game.
About 85 percent of the students involved in all athletic programs had not obtained formal permission from parents to participate in sports, Mr. Willie said.
This "breakdown," the state inquiry concluded, stemmed from larger problems in the district's administration of sports. The most serious problems, Mr. Willie said, were that no Yonkers official had full responsibility for sports administration and that methods of checking coaches' qualifications were inadequate.
"They had no one with the authority necessary to carry out the functions of athletic director," Mr. Willie said. "There was a tremendous breakdown in terms of communication and lines of authority. As a result, a number of youngsters participated in fall sports without authorization."
Since the investigation, the district has hired an acting director of physical education who will have responsibility for athletics.
District officials have also established inservice training programs for coaches and other school officials who must deal with health issues in athletics, reviewed the records of all students involved in athletics, established a group to advise the board of education about athletics, and started work on a revised physical-education plan to present to the state.
In a related development, a random survey of five New York City schools found a similar failure to enforce state and local regulations that were devised to protect the health and safety of high-school athletes.
Comptroller Harrison J. Goldin said the survey found that about 20 percent of the schools' varsity and junior-varsity football and soccer players were permitted to join the teams without the necessary medical examinations and parental permission.
Mr. Goldin said the city's Board of Education had warned the schools to meet state and district standards or face disciplinary actions.