SAUGUS — It’s become almost a ritual tradition among boys graduating from high school — to smoke the victory cigar after the ceremony.
But thanks both to Saugus’ rules on chemical health and tobacco use, coupled with the state athletic association’s stringent anti-drug/alcohol/tobacco policy, seven senior athletes whose teams have made the postseason tournaments have been suspended for the playoffs because they were among a group of students who lit up after last Friday’s graduation ceremony at Stackpole Field.
Dr. David DeRuosi, superintendent of schools in Saugus, said that a photo of the boys posted online was brought to the attention of principal Michael Hashem, adding that in Saugus, one must be at least 21 years old to buy tobacco products.
“All student athletes sign a handbook policy that states they cannot use tobacco products at school functions, in addition to the (Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association) policy,” said DeRuosi. The students were reminded (by Hashem) that school policies would apply.”
Reportedly, six of the students are members of the boys lacrosse team, which was scheduled to play Pentucket Monday in a first-round game. However, the game was postponed until today because of bad weather.
“When our players took to the field at that lacrosse game we would be in violation,” said DeRuosi. “We would have to forfeit the game and maybe even the rest of the season.”
A seventh athlete is reportedly a member of the baseball team.
Boys lacrosse coach Rob Scuzzarella chose not to comment on the suspensions. However, various members of the team tweeted their thoughts, saying they were not warned by administrators or coaches about how tightly school rules would apply.
“My teammates and I were not told, by either administrators or coaches, that we could not smoke cigars after graduation,” said Kevin Cucuzza. “We were simply following tradition, and we got our final state tournament appearance taken away from us because of it.”
“My job for the team is to literally get pelted with balls and that’s nothing compared to how I feel about not being able to play in my last game of my career over a tradition,” said Alex Debrito, who attached a photo of athletes from other schools smoking cigars while wearing a cap and gown.
“Oh, and in case anyone cares, this is the team we are playing tomorrow (Pentucket) doing the same thing we were,” he tweeted.
School committee woman Elizabeth Marchese said the suspensions were unfortunate. “The events and subsequent disciplinary action taken against (Saugus High) student athletes involved in postseason tournament play following the (Saugus High) graduation this past Friday Night are saddening for all involved.
“We are all responsible to some degree and fingers cannot be pointed at just one individual,” Marchese said in a statement. “For years, the smoking of the traditional ‘cigar’ has been allowed and overlooked at graduation. By our tacit allowance, we as a whole have sent mixed messages to our students that there will be no consequence. That was wrong and unfair.
“What should have been a celebration of the culmination of their years as Sachem students will now forever be marred,” she said. “I know in my heart there was no malintent to break rules but only to celebrate their years of accomplishment with family and friends. I believe that sometimes we have to look at the purpose or intent behind a rule to really see if a rule was broken or not.
“Regrettably, this whole situation could have been avoided had an email been sent or announcement been made prior to the commencement of graduation ceremonies reminding everyone of the tobacco use policy, especially in light of past practices. I am confident that in the future there will be no gray area and this will never happen again.”
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association has strict rules for students who violate its policy on alcohol, drug or tobacco use. Moreover, the MIAA considers athletes who have graduated, but are still performing in spring tournament games, to be under its purview. The MIAA extended the regular season one week because of early-spring bad weather, which meant that no tournaments had started by the time Saugus students graduated Friday.
“A student shall not, regardless of the quantity, use, consume, possess, buy/sell, or give away any beverage containing alcohol; any tobacco product (including e-cigarettes, VAPE pens and all similar devices); marijuana (including synthetic); steroids; or any controlled substance,” the MIAA writes on Page 60 of its handbook. “It is not a violation for a student to be in possession of a legally defined drug specifically prescribed for the student’s own use by his/her doctor.
“When the principal confirms, following an opportunity for the student to be heard, that a violation occurred, the student shall lose eligibility for the next consecutive interscholastic contests (regular season and tournament) totaling 25 percent of all interscholastic contests in that sport.”
The MIAA stresses that its rules are minimum standards and individual schools are free to enhance them if they choose.
Saugus has a “zero tolerance” philosophy on drugs and alcohol. It also prohibits the use of tobacco products within school buildings, on school grounds, in school buses or at any school-sponsored event. Included in this ban are cigars.
“This year, there has been a lot of talk about enforcement of policies, equity of enforcement, and really, (administrators) are looking at myself and the district to enforce the policy we have in place,” said DeRuosi. “Moving forward it’s a teachable moment for everybody.”