Homecoming Horror

Staples’ Homecoming last Saturday had everything:  Perfect fall weather.  A one-sided victory by the football team.   Several students hauled off to the hospital, after way too much pre-game alcohol.

Principal John Dodig reacted swiftly.  Yesterday he sent a strong but objective letter to parents.  It read:

Homecoming weekend has come and gone.  The 4 days of Spirit Week went very well, ending with a rousing pep rally out in the brilliant sunlight.  As principal of a school of 1,800 students, I could not have asked for a better Homecoming experience leading up to the game on Saturday.

Each year, planning for this event is a calculated risk.  Should we provide an escape valve for pent-up excitement and energy, even encouraging it with a pep rally, or avoid the possibility of mayhem by abandoning the experience altogether?  The answer we’ve come to is that it is part of the American high school experience, and at Staples can be done safely.  It helps build Staples spirit.

Saturday was Homecoming day.  Most of our teams were successful over the weekend and our football team had to restrain itself to keep an astounding lead from becoming too wide.  Coach P and our boys did a great job, and I’m proud of them.

Here is the problem, and the reason I am writing to you.  Many of our students have learned very well the lessons they see on television each week when watching college and professional sports or when attending college and professional sporting events.  It all begins with partying in the morning so they can have a good time.

Teenagers are bombarded with media messages extolling drinking

Teenagers are bombarded with media messages extolling drinking

Every one of us who has attended a game at Yankee or Giants Stadium, Yale Bowl or any other large venue knows that drinking is out of control. I’m old and wise enough to be able to say that it has become an established part of our culture not easily erased.  I’m not about to attempt that task.

On the other hand, I am the principal of Staples High School and charged with providing a safe place for your children to learn, socialize, and mature. When I know, with confidence, that drinking among a LARGE number of students WILL take place at the Homecoming Day game, why should I continue to support it?  Has the whole idea of Homecoming become nothing more than an excuse to drink and behave badly?

Sending several girls to the hospital for being intoxicated and endangering their lives is serious business.  We will start planning for Homecoming well before the event next year.  In the meantime, however, I need your support, help, and input.

What's a game without a cold one?

What's a game without a cold one?

It was truly unfortunate that we administrators had to make calls to parents to either pick up their children at Norwalk Hospital or come to the school to bring them home. There were MANY more who had been drinking but who were not caught because they didn’t pass out or vomit.  A walk into the stands left NO doubt that lots of alcohol had been consumed before the game (drinking in the morning?).  There was little or nothing we could do at that point without causing a riot.

But there are questions I have to ask before we decide whether or not to repeat this event next year.  Here are a few: 

1) Can parents do more to monitor what their children are doing before the game?

2) Should we breathalyze each student we suspect has been drinking?

3) Should we simply accept that drinking will take place, ignore it, and simply tend to the sick?

4) Should we have seniors sign the same contract they sign before prom but use it to cover ALL school events and have underclassmen sign a similar contract with different consequences?

I look forward to hearing from you about this matter.  I will bring it up as a topic of discussion at our PTA Coffees this year.  I will speak to students about this matter.  I will consult with teachers and administrators about their feelings.

The bottom line is, as you’ve heard me say many times, that we want students to like Staples. We want them to have occasional fun and let their hair down.  We can’t ignore, however, that portions of Homecoming have evolved into something very negative and potentially dangerous to our students.  That is the part I cannot ignore or accept. Let’s make something positive out of a very negative experience.

Dodig has received over 100 emails so far — nearly all of them positive and supportive.  Suggestions range from canceling Homecoming altogether, to using a breathalyzer, to raising townwide awareness. 

“The next few PTA coffees should be interesting,” he notes.

Dodig welcomes more feedback, in the form of a community-wide conversation.  Click the “Comments” link at the top or bottom of this post to add your view.

13 responses to “Homecoming Horror

  1. In addition to reducing auto accidents and deaths, raising the drinking age was supposed to help keep alcohol out of the high schools. It was one thing when the seniors bought booze for the underclassmen, but now who is doing the enabling?
    I think using breathalyzers is the fairest approach. If you did it near the parking lot, then you could suspend their drivers licenses, which would be a very strong, and legal, penalty.

  2. Warren Shapiro

    I don’t have an answer to this problem. But I do have a few thoughts as to what is causing it. This kind of drinking is clearly representative of self indulgent, excessive, selfish, bad behavior. Do people really need to drink to have a good time? If so, isn’t there something fundamentally wrong with that? Where are the parents in this picture? Do your parental responsibilities end when your kid graduates high school?

    Parents need to step up and get back to parenting their kids! Kids need to step up and get a grip! It’s simple, if the parents can’t control their kids and kids can’t control themselves then cancel homecoming, period. If the school spirit is being fueled by alcohol then it’s not a real spirit, it’s just an excuse to have a drunken party. We don’t need to provide kids with another excuse for that.
    Perhaps it is a case of a few people spoiling it for the majority, but do we really want to institute breathalysers at homecoming? If we are that out of control as a community, then we need to seriously re-think the value of this event.

    • If parents want to have an effect on teenagers drinking then they maybe they, themselves, shouldn’t drink alcohol. As a teenager we are suppose to look up to our parents but when we see parents drinking at parties or sporting events it just makes it seem acceptable.

      • Warren Shapiro

        I agree with you about parents not drinking. But moderate social drinking by adults is not the same as binge drinking by kids. And presumably adults behave like adults and know when to say when, but that is not always the case.

        I have no problem with your statement, but the reality is that it seems that most people drink and I know many adults drink excessively. I am sure that many of the parents of those kids have set a poor example for them. Teenage drinking is a complex problem, but no question if you are an adult and your kid sees you drinking alot or regularly, then you don’t have very much clout if you tell them to “do as I say, not as I do”.

  3. Paul Greenberg


    All the high-and-mighty types who want to somehow figure out how to legislate morality need to look at the root causes of this behavior instead of making another vain attempt to somehow stop it ex post facto through some sort of legal enforcement. These enforcement efforts will fail, just as Prohibition not only failed but also helped to erode the respect for the law. I do not think taking a driver license away from a child, using metal detectors and breathalyzers, or anything else to police the situation will stop a child from drinking. Already you can see the effects of the current child prohibition efforts: binge drinking (get drunk when you can!) and the greater use of hard liquor (too much volume to carry beer, better off with that bottle of 151 rum!).

    Unfortunately, I believe we have ingrained the dangerous behavior of binge drinking by making drinking a forbidden fruit instead of teaching responsible drinking much earlier in a child’s life. What is so magical about 21 for the drinking age anyway? We, as a society, have decided to abdicate our personal responsibility to teach our children and instead we have decided to let government do it for us.

    Just like every previous generation, children are going to experiment whether we like it or not. In fact you can ague that we as parents sowed the roots of underage binge drinking by the shielding of our young children from all types of risks. Sure, we got rid of the monkey bars so they did not get hurt and we stopped them from walking to the school bus stop alone so they did not get kidnapped, but at what cost? We “saved” them early in life but now we are paying the price by removing their ability to analyze risk and risky behavior.

    For current high school kids, it is too late; the cows have left the barn. We need to educate parents on how to educate young kids about responsible drinking. Fighting this radical idea will be groups like MADD and others that argue that even one drip of demon liquor on a child’s lips until 21 is illegal and immoral. This can make it difficult for parents who wish to educate their children on the responsible use of alcohol. We as a society and as individuals need to reject the arguments of these groups if we are going to reduce this problem.

    It is not up to government enforcement or some new system, it is up to us as parents and citizens.

  4. since teenagers every where and forever have been drinking before and after school sporting events, maybe at home encouragement of moderation, etiquette and respect for the event’s participants and other spectators should be given greater consideration.

    it’s absurd that educators should be compelled – not by the homecoming events themselves but by public opinion – to spend their time on this issue and defending their communications intent on deterring another like incident.

    I hope the girls recovered well and that they and their parents are able to enjoy the rest of the school year. I am also betting that they will never do that again.

  5. The incident was under reported.

    Younger students (new freshmen) say they saw and unfortunately experienced the effects of MANY upper class girls vomiting off the stands. They also witnessed a widespread use of flasks and students smuggling pints of hard liquor into the stands at the game.

  6. Wonder if this incident will have an impact on the P&Z’s decision to light the field.

    You have got to figure that a night game is an invitation to drink that the Homecoming crowd won’t ignore.

  7. I applaud Principal Dodig for his open and candid letter, he’s thinking out loud to find a solution while working with the community.

    I also agree strongly with Mr. Greenberg’s opinions, as a matter of fact, it’s the reason a number of Universities, including Fairfield U, have advocated lowering the legal drinking age.

  8. My goal in sending out a letter to 2,000 parents was to begin a discussion on this topic AND to get as many people as possible to agree that this is a community/family matter not simply a school matter. I can tell you that ALL of the emails I have received (closing in on 200) have all agreed that this is a community and family responsibility and that my folks should not have to deal with huge numbers of students behaving as they did. Something good will come of this. Westport raises good kids. I have confidence in the outcome.

  9. As a SHS senior, homecoming was extreme, but not surprising. It’s sad, but pre-gaming homecoming has become somewhat of a tradition, with some students starting as early as 8AM. To be blunt – it’s disgusting. But canceling homecoming or putting in breathalyzers won’t stop this. The whole drinking scene is part of the teen culture, and only a completely new way of educating kids about alcohol can change that.

    Personally, I am against the current drinking age. Although the original intentions were in good faith, the effects have been disastrous. Now a days, the idea of “drinking socially” has completely disappeared, and in its place, binge drinking has emerged. It’s not shocking to overhear several conversations Monday morning about how one student spent three hours throwing up after taking eight shots in less than half an hour, or how another student blacked out and their friends had to tell them about the entire night. Never before has binge drinking been a problem. This whole new fashion is driven by a fear of being caught, and the rush to achieve the high of being drunk before heading home and having to say good night to your parents.

    It’s apparent that removing alcohol merely makes it more attractive. If we look at trends of alcohol use during the Prohibition, it’s easily noted that alcohol sales, use, and abuse increased. It became a luxury. In fact, women, who normally would have never been caught drinking in pubic, took to alcohol more than men. Also, it became “okay” to break the law, and created a negative relationship between citizens and their government. Because of all the harmful side effects, Prohibition was finally appealed.

    So today, in our modern prohibition, what makes things any different? How is it decided that at 21, we somehow become able to handle alcohol. Why 21? We’re given the power to make decisions that affect our country at 18. We’re allowed to get married, buy property, and DIE for our country at 18. Girls are allowed to have an abortion without parent consent at 16. Yet, we aren’t old enough to drink a beer with our friends?

    There are some that say the drinking age is 21 because the adolescent brain is still developing. This is true. But it’s not fully developed until 25. So why not change the drinking age again? Make it 25? People won’t do this, because it will only cause alcohol use to go up even more.

    So, what needs to change? Parents need to be more open with their children about drinking. Start educating at an early age and raise them to realize that there isn’t really anything special about alcohol. It doesn’t give you magic powers, it won’t make you “cooler” if you black out, and it definitely won’t make your chances with “the hottest girl” increase either. Let us have some wine or a beer on special occasions with the family. Having alcohol available as just another beverage makes it less appealing since it becomes part of your normal life.

    I have been lucky, and was raised in an extremely open family with a different culture when it comes to alcohol. Sure, there have been times when I have folded to peer pressure and have had to deal with consequences, but I’ve learned. On weekends, I’m never the girl who gets sick, but rather I’m able to have a drink with friends at a party and be in control. More importantly, I’m able to have fun, show my school spirit, and celebrate soberly. I attribute this completely to my non-American upbringing. So it’s time that America caught up with the rest of the world, and started teaching the new generations how to handle alcohol, and stay in control.

    It’s my greatest hope that homecoming isn’t canceled for the rest of my peers at Staples, and that they take this opportunity to change the tradition, and slowly, shift the drinking culture towards a healthier one.

  10. Warren Shapiro

    I am impressed by the most recent comment by ‘anonymous” dated Oct 3rd. I think most of the posters agree that there is definately a problem here. I applaud Principle Dodig for his open letter and willingness to hear and exchange ideas in seeking out a solution. I agree with “Anonymous” the prohibitions, breathalizers, and the like will only increase the challenge of “winning”the hide a seek game.

    I think that there is something wrong in our society when it comes to drinking in general. I see many adults in my work who treat drinking to excess as some kind of a wierd accomplishment. Forgive me but, drinking to get drunk is just dumb. There is nothing more to say about it. If you need to get drunk in order to enjoy anything, then whatever it is you are doing is not worth doing. A glass of wine or two, a bottle of beer or two is OK. More than that is just stupid in my opinion. Binge drinking is unhealthy physically and it is the touchstone of many many stupid behaviors (see police blotters accross the country). If your parents drink irresponsibly, then there is a high likelihood your kids will. These issues at homecoming are representatives of some really bad parenting going on in our town. Maybe that it too blunt for some, but let’s cut to the heart of this matter. In a town with seeminly unlimmited money, if we have weak values, the sky is the limit for bad behavior. Indeed in my 17 years as a social worker I came to the following observation: The two most difficult environments to grow up in; the very rich and the very poor. Paradoxically, they end up with many of the same bad behaviors via two distinctly different paths. I have no simple solution for this issue, but I would start by better educating the parents, because clearly, if your kid is one of these kids who is drunk and/or disorderly at homecoming, you need to have a heart to heart conversation with…yourself as you have clearly failed to prepare your child for the temptations involved this stage of growing up.

  11. As a college junior now (who is still under 21…) I must say I don’t understand the publicity that all this is getting. Connecticut is ranked number one for underage drug and alcohol abuse and Fairfield County is ranked number one in Conn. It is something that is valued in FC (just take a look at how many members the facebook group, “I’m not an alcoholic, I’m just from Fairfield County” has). So why are we upset that kids celebrate in the same spirit in which it has always been celebrated? What are you trying to stop? It’s not like alcohol abuse has been a detriment to college admissions, the highly prized measure of success in Westport. It’s also done in a safe atmosphere. We should praise the youth of Westport who learn and know how to handle alcohol responsibly. You’d be surprised to see how many high schoolers in the rest of the country do it irresponsibly and where drunk driving is no big deal. Breathalyzing kids is not only an infringement on their rights but it isn’t in the spirit of openness and trust that we like to foster. A laissez faire approach is the best we can do here, all the while stressing responsibility and not drinking and driving.