Foul Out

Tammie Campbell (left) enlisted the help of Olivo in her fight.
Wendy Grossman

Shar-day Campbell was sitting in tenth-grade Spanish when a friend asked her a question. Shar-day answered, and got in trouble for talking during class.

As a result, the basketball coach forced the 15-year-old to spend two days after school running laps, climbing stairs and crawling on her hands and knees like a bear.

He then insisted that Shar-day apologize to the Spanish teacher for her bad conduct. Tammie Campbell, who felt her daughter had been punished enough, told the coach Shar-day didn't need to apologize. Two weeks later, the coach cut Shar-day from the basketball team, says Campbell, who is also president of the Missouri City chapter of the NAACP. This triggered a three-month battle between Fort Bend ISD and the NAACP backed by state Representative Dora Olivo.

"It is killing a gnat with a mallet," says Keryl B. Douglas, regional NAACP director. "This excessive punishment. This abuse of authority and power must be dealt with."

Douglas believes Shar-day was retaliated against because her mother is an active advocate of African-American children in Fort Bend County.

School officials say student athletes are held to higher standards -- extra exercises are routinely used to motivate them to maintain good conduct marks in school.

"That has been standard practice," says Mary Ann Simpson, associate superintendent of community relations for FBISD. "Student athletes are representatives of the school and are held to a very high standard of conduct."

Those with unsatisfactory conduct grades are required to apologize to teachers involved to boost communication skills and learn to take responsibility for their actions, according to FBISD.

"The coach did not act with any ill intent and was following what he believed to be district procedures," Simpson says.

But when Campbell demanded that her daughter be reinstated to the basketball program, the district said it couldn't be done because Shar-day was never officially a member of the team.

Campbell argues that if Shar-day wasn't considered an athlete, then she should not have been held to the higher standards.

And the district doesn't have an answer for that.

Shar-day played post on the girls' basketball teams from the seventh through ninth grades. She spent the summer running every day and training with her teammates.

After the incident in Spanish class in October, Campbell says, coach Doug Lechtenberger told her that her daughter had to apologize to the teacher.

Campbell says she told him her daughter had done nothing to warrant an apology. The teacher had already given her daughter an N (for "needs improvement") in conduct, which Campbell felt was punishment enough for her honor-roll daughter.

The coach told Campbell that her daughter needed to apologize in order to participate in the basketball program. Campbell says he told her she couldn't protect her daughter -- which Campbell took as a threat.

Then, Campbell says, he said he wasn't her coach, and hung up.

Two weeks later, Shar-day officially tried out for the team. She didn't make it.

The coach told her father, Dennis Campbell, that Shar-day isn't fast enough. He said she can't run, she can't jump, and she doesn't have a jump shot. The evaluation was that she is a lazy, inconsistent player who lacks leadership skills. The NAACP finds these remarks "stereotypical" and "negative."

Dennis Campbell says, "Not only should she have made the team -- she should have been starting on the team.

"This was strictly retaliation against my wife not letting my daughter be punished three times for the same offense."

"Even if you would've been Ray Charles you would've seen her skills were clearly the better skills," Tammie Campbell says.

As the dispute escalated, the Campbells argued that their daughter had played on the team in previous years, had a 100 score in basketball class and had been required to participate in the $100 basketball team fund-raiser (to which they gave $100). The parents demanded that the district reinstate Shar-day to the team and reprimand the coach.

Two independent investigators hired by the district issued a January report finding that FBISD coaches routinely use the extra exercises and apologies to teachers to motivate players to maintain good conduct grades. According to the report, three other students had to work off their bad conduct.

"Participation in athletics is a privilege. As such, student athletes are expected to maintain satisfactory grades in coursework and satisfactory conduct grades in all classes," the report says.

"Coach Lechtenberger explained to Ms. Campbell that he believed requiring Shar-day to talk to the teacher would help teach life skills of communicating and being responsible for one's behavior…he said, 'You can't protect her all of her life, you've got to let her grow up and develop her skills in communication,' " the report stated.

Investigators said Shar-day wasn't among the top 12 players, and that every kid who shows up for basketball class gets a 100. She played on the ninth-grade team because only 13 girls tried out, so they were all admitted, the report says.

"That argument there didn't make no sense," says Shar-day's mother.

She says participation was still limited this year since only 14 girls tried out for the squad of 12. She maintained that it is "misleading and deceptive to give a 100 grade in a credit class for showing up and dressing out."

The Campbells argue that the independent investigation wasn't independent, especially since one of the two attorneys who wrote it works for Feldman & Rogers, which represents the district. "Everything was distorted," Tammie Campbell says.

In a closed hearing, the school board voted to uphold the superintendent's ruling that Shar-day had not been treated unfairly and no reprimand of the coach or reinstatement of the player was needed.

In a press conference last week, the NAACP alleged "retaliation, abuse of power and stereotypical labeling" in the case.

"This case is not about wanting the school board to decide who gets on the basketball team," says state Representative Dora Olivo. "We should never allow a teacher to use his power to retaliate…Schools are for children; everything we do should be for children."

Campbell says she feels this is an act of retaliation for her activism. "They're sending a clear message to me as an advocate that if you speak out and speak up, we're not going to do anything," she says.

The Campbells still believe that changes will be made, even if their daughter doesn't get to play. "Dr. King didn't benefit for all the things he did to make it better for us," Campbell tells her daughter. "But we have to continue to fight to make sure justice is done."

Regardless, Shar-day has been crying, can't sleep and has headaches so bad her mother has to take Tylenol to school for her. "Our daughter is hurting," Tammie Campbell says. Shar-day finished her physical education credits, but Campbell says Superintendent Betty Baitland wouldn't let her stay in basketball class.

Her parents tell her that being cut from the team has nothing to do with her physical abilities.

Even if the district disagrees.

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