Four full-time starters and one part-time starter were kicked off the Payson Longhorns football team after they were caught drinking alcohol at a Saturday night party.
The five football players, who will not be named because they are minors, were in the Tonto National Forest with 35 to 40 other juveniles when they were found by law enforcement officers, said Gila County Sheriff Lt. Tim Scott.
Scott said the department received a call at about 10:30 p.m. about the forest party, which was near or on the boundary of Star Valley.
Scott said officials from the Payson Police Department, GCSO and the Forest Service responded to the location.
All of the students were tested to determine if they had been consuming alcohol, and nine students were cited for underage consumption, including the five varsity football players, four of whom are sophomores. One is a senior.
Scott said that all of the minors at the forest party were very cooperative with the authorities.
Payson Unified School District Superintendent Sue Myers said the athletes in question violated a code of conduct that is outlined in the student handbook.
It states that a first offense of alcohol consumption on or off campus is punishable by suspension from extracurricular activities for three weeks with mandatory referral to an appropriate counselor.
There would also be a written plan for changing behavior that is a result of the counseling intervention.
Myers said, student athletes are held to higher standards because they are considered leaders of the school and community.
"We know other children are watching them," she said. "It is very important to us that we have this (policy) in place."
The student handbook allows coaches to set their own policy as long as it is as strict as the district's policy.
Longhorn Varsity Football Coach Josh Anderson told his players before the season that there would be a zero tolerance for players who were caught using drugs, alcohol or tobacco.
His players signed a contract before the season began that informed them that if they were caught by authorities or school officials with any of the three substances, they would be dismissed for the entire season.
True to his word, the five players will not return to the team for the rest of the football season.
"It's my own policy," Anderson said.
He said the contract was straightforward.
"We are hurting badly already," he said. "It has to be a learning process."
Anderson said he is hoping this rule will prevent others from violating the code of conduct, adding he never wants to go through this situation again.
He said the suspended players were aware of his policy.
"They are good kids and got caught up in making the wrong choice," the football coach said.
-- To reach Michael Maresh call 474-5251 ext. 112 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.