The Herald Bulletin

September 23, 2013

Elwood players won't face adult charges

Officials deny accusations football team has drug-abuse problem

By Jack Molitor
The Herald Bulletin

ELWOOD, Ind. —

Two Elwood High School football players arrested on drug charges before a Sept. 6 football game will not be waived to adult court, officials said Monday.

The case led to an anonymous letter received by The Herald Bulletin and school district offices in which the writer claims the drug problem is widespread.

The two students, a 16- and a 17-year-old, were arrested prior to the team's game against Blackford High School. The Herald Bulletin does not typically print the names of arrested juveniles.

According to Elwood police, an assistant coach who allegedly saw the two players with the substance contacted school Principal David Rutherford, who notified police. The investigating officers reported finding a total of 7.5 milligrams of hydrocodone, a powerful painkiller derived from codeine, in the teenagers' possession.

Both boys are charged with possession of a Schedule III controlled substance, a Class C felony, and the 17-year-old is charged with dealing a Schedule III controlled substance, Police Chief Sam Hanna said. While the dealing charge is usually a Class B felony, it is being upgraded to a Class A felony because the sale reportedly happened on school grounds.

According to Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings, the teens will be processed through juvenile court because the case doesn't warrant consideration for adult court. Cummings said it would be at least a week before an initial hearing date is determined.

On Sept. 12, The Herald Bulletin received an unsigned letter from a person claiming to be a parent of an Elwood football player. The parent did not sign the letter, they wrote, for fear of reprisal against their child.

The letter was critical of Elwood Head Coach Marty Wells and other members of his staff for covering up drinking and drug use among players. The author claims that their child witnessed about 10 other Elwood players disposing of illegal drugs before the Sept. 6 game. Eight players were identified in the anonymous letter by name.

On Monday, Wells called the accusations "absurd."

"You can ask anyone who has ever played for me. I'm a fair and honest person," Wells said. "Frankly ... It's the dumbest thing anyone has ever said."

Elwood Chief of Police Sam Hanna, whose department made the arrests, said this is the only incident of its kind that he's aware of in Elwood. But he added that, if he found out 10 more students were involved, it wouldn't surprise him.

"I don't think these are bad kids, but it's possible they're making bad choices, and a lot of them might not be educated on the risks," Hanna said. "We know it's probably not an isolated incident."

According to Hanna, the investigation has largely been handed off to school officials, and his department is doing everything it can to support Elwood Community Schools in the matter.

On Monday, Elwood Superintendent Tim Smith said he also received the anonymous letter and that the accusations are baseless. He said he has a hard time taking such claims seriously when they're from anonymous sources.

"The security of kids is of utmost importance to us," Smith said. "Unfortunately, when situations like this occur, rumors and other accusations come out. We still look at them, but we look at them based on the evidence. If it's someone who would be willing to come forward and talk to us so we can follow up, we'd definitely take that seriously."

Smith said he couldn't comment on the current case because of the students' due-process rights, but said the school district's first objective in cases of drug abuse is to get help for the students involved and offer resources such as counseling.

The Indiana High School Athletic Association has no bylaws regarding drug testing or drug abuse. As a governing body, the IHSAA defers handling of such behavior to school districts. Smith and Wells said Elwood has a district-wide drug policy, which includes systematic and random drug testing.

Wells, who is in charge of the school district's drug testing program, said the principal and superintendent aren't made aware of drug tests until the day they are administered. 

At Elwood, tests occur randomly 10 times a year and include any students in athletics, in co-curricular activities and anyone who drives to school. The first violation carries a 30-day suspension and an automatic re-testing. The second violation leads to a 365-day suspension, and the third violation results in a high school career ban.

Wells said parents are always notified after a positive test, and the school has several educational programs and counseling available to students who might be at risk of relapsing.

"We don't have a drug problem at Elwood. Period," Wells said.

Like Jack Molitor on Facebook and follow him @aggiejack4 on Twitter, or call 640-4883.