High school athletes driving teammates to games concerns some parents in Montgomery County

Should student athletes be driving teammates to away games? Some parents in Montgomery County say they don't want their kids doing it.

Multiple Magruder High School field hockey and lacrosse parents are concerned. They say it’s both an equity and safety issue.  

Terri Kramer told FOX 5 that her daughter was one of the Magruder senior field hockey athletes driving teammates around last school year.

"It should not be automatic default that students should be asked to drive other students," she said. "They’re inexperienced drivers. And I mean, both my daughters were freshmen. I didn’t want my freshman driving with an inexperienced senior because of safety issues, and I know that there have been plenty of accidents. And then when my daughter became a senior, and she learned how to drive. I didn’t want her as the inexperienced driver, driving younger students."

Maeryn Erdheim is an actual former Magruder senior athlete who told FOX 5 she had to do the same. Her mother testified on the matter at the last school board meeting before MCPS started its 2022-2023 school year.

Erdheim is now a college freshman in Boston. She described some of her experiences via Zoom on Friday.

"The car rides were always fun, [they] could be seen as bonding opportunities but they definitely …  It was definitely annoying, and I would talk to my [teammates] like why is this on us — especially with the younger girls?" Erdheim said.  "When they had JV games that were earlier than our games, we had to be there even earlier to make sure that those girls got to their games because they couldn’t drive."

"I felt like under a lot of pressure last year with my team, and I want that space to feel safe for everyone involved," she added.

Erdheim tells FOX 5 that buses were available for away games in her early high school years, but were not presented as an option these past two years. 

This issue also coincides with the national bus shortage that schools across the country are experiencing due to the pandemic.

MCPS addressed the particular busing issue in its "Things to Know for Thursday, Sept. 1" community letter.  

Part of that letter reads:

MCPS buses are available for teams to utilize throughout the season for off-site games or events, assuming there are available drivers and buses and based on the game time. It is important to note that, due to buses making runs afterschool for students, buses are not available during the hours of 1:35-4:35 p.m. from Monday-Friday. This constraint, along with the convenience of leaving later and coming home earlier, results in instances when parent or student drivers may be preferred. If parent or student drivers are being considered for transportation to off-site events, each student’s parents/guardians have the option to opt out of allowing their student to drive with parent or student drivers. 

When asked about it, MCPS Spokesperson Chris Cram told FOX 5: "Let’s be clear, MCPS buses are available for teams to utilize throughout the season for off-site games or events, assuming there are available drivers and buses and based on the game time. This fact and that our parents, sports boosters and young drivers are so helpful in transportation matters is a reason why so many of our athletes are able to participate."

The concerned parents say students having to drive can also depend on whether the school’s athletic department requested the bus in enough time or whether there are parents available to organize carpools. Some of those same parents reacting to the school letter sent Thursday say it’s not enough.

"This year for the first time, I know that our coaches are now offering to drive players, which I think put coaches in an uncomfortable situation that they have to be driving players to games," Kramer said. "Yeah, it is shocking and frustrating that in Montgomery County this is our situation." 

The parents would prefer school buses for high school sanctioned sports to be mandatory. However, at the very least, they’re asking for better safeguards, including MCPS confirming whether the student driver has a proper driver’s license and insurance.

Cram explained to FOX 5 that "Regulation IPD-RA" requires parents to give permission to drive or ride in a car with another student. Parents have the option to opt their student out. However, confirming a valid driver’s license and insurance, according to MCPS, is the responsibility of the parent or child.

Montgomery County bus driver shortage causing major delays for students

This is the form parents can use to opt out of certain transportation. While parents are being notified when they register their child for sports that they may have to ride with other students to games, in some cases, parents and athletes told FOX 5 they felt forced to do so.

FOX 5 was able to view communication sent by school officials saying Magruder High School field hockey program would have busses for all away games this school year, but only one way. 

Apparently, parents who go to the games will be able to take their athlete and others home.

The update comes after FOX 5 asked MCPS about continued concerns raised by Magruder field hockey and lacrosse parents regarding student athletes feeling pressure to transport themselves and teammates to away games.