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Rules for uniforms binding too tightly

The full weight and authority of the Pinellas County school system has been brought down on the Clearwater and Dunedin high school baseball teams. The students' new baseball uniforms have been confiscated. The offense? Player numbers were stitched onto the baseball shirts rather than silk-screened.

Even Robert Hosack, the county's athletic director who ordered the confiscation, admits it is difficult to distinguish between a sewn number and one that is silk-screened. So why take such drastic actions against young athletes? The rules say numbers must be silk-screened. "The whole idea was to ensure students have the same kind of uniforms, and it would be equitable," Hosack said.

In this case, however, school administrators seem more interested in enforcing absurd rules than in embracing fairness.

High school athletics in Pinellas County have operated under a centralized system since the early '80s, when a student at one school was injured after using inferior equipment. Now the administration buys all the sports equipment for each school, making sure each is treated the same.

When it comes to equipment _ weights, footballs, bats, etc. _ each school should have good equipment. No one would want to see one school gain a competitive advantage because it could afford sturdier bats or springier tennis rackets. The system applies those same regulations to uniforms, however.

So the administration buys uniforms every four years or so. "We're certainly not going to buy a new set of uniforms every year," Hosack said.

The rules also require each school to have its jerseys silk-screened, a process in which numbers and letters are printed onto the fabric. Silk-screened numbers are less expensive but don't last as long as stitched numbers.

Booster club parents at Dunedin High School collected about $1,500 for 30 jerseys that included stitched numbers. Clearwater High School boosters paid $20 per shirt for stitched lettering on jerseys provided by the school district. "We just thought they would look nicer," said Clearwater coach Roger Tremblay, who noted that the current baseball uniforms are 7 years old. When word got out, Hosack ordered the uniforms confiscated.

Now the uniforms can't be used unless someone wants to pay to have the thread on each number torn out and the jerseys imprinted by silk-screen.

What lesson is the administration teaching high school students in this case? It is not clear.

No one has said that other high schools lack the money to update their uniforms. If that is the reason for such restrictive rules, why doesn't Hosack's office help those schools organize booster clubs or find the money elsewhere in their budgets?

Or why doesn't the school system provide all high school athletes with new jerseys each year? Booster clubs and others in the community probably would contribute to the cause.

Instead of helping to build team spirit and parental involvement in high school sports, Pinellas County school administrators are saying they can't be bothered. The rules are the rules, even when they don't make sense.

PENNY FOR PINELLAS

In preparing for today's vote on the Penny for Pinellas extension, the Times editorial board has studied the issues and published a detailed recommendation. In summary, the board recommends a YES vote on the referendum question.

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