The suspension of three baseball coaches at Bishop Denis J. O'Connell High School in Arlington, because they allowed students to drink beer while on a team outing, has cast a cloud on the school's championship season and caused some parents to wonder whether the punishment was too severe.

Principal Al Burch said yesterday he is still investigating the incident that led to last week's suspension of head coach John Koons Jr., president of JKJ Chevrolet at Tysons Corner, and assistants Dick Bosman, former pitcher for the Washington Senators, and Donald Malan. Burch said he has not yet decided whether to rehire the three next year.

"Whatever I do will be wrong to some people," said Burch, who was head baseball coach for 18 years at O'Connell before taking over as principal six years ago. "But this school has a very strong stand against alcohol and drugs. Those are the two violations that are automatic expulsions."

Koons and Malan could not be reached for comment and Bosman declined to comment.

Burch, who first learned of the episode through rumors at the school, said none of the students involved will be punished because, he said, "The coaches condoned it."

According to Burch and other sources, the coaches and parents who accompanied the team and 15 other students on the Williamsburg trip three weeks ago, had beer on the bus that they shared with several students, all of them over 18, the legal drinking age for beer in Virginia.

"I understand that several parents gave permission for the kids to drink, but they didn't have a right to do that," said Burch. "No one got in trouble and there were no incidents. John Koons told me that since it was not a school-sponsored trip, he didn't feel he had violated any school rules."

Burch, who has the support of the archdiocese, says the distinction is meaningless because O'Connell students were involved.

But some parents, while not condoning the drinking, fear that the suspension--and possible removal--of Koons and his staff will hurt the baseball program.

"I feel bad for the kids," said Dr. Peter Morabito, whose son John played for the team. "Koons may have used poor judgment, but it's been built way out of proportion. The principal is in a bind because it's a situation where they're all nice people."

Morabito said he thought the incident had attracted attention because of Koons' position as one of the area's leading car dealers. "He is a high-visibility guy who has done a lot for the school and there are people taking shots at him all the time," said Morabito.

"It's a shame we don't get calls when he does something good for the community," said another parent. Others contacted yesterday said they had no comment on the incident.

Koons, who has been involved with Little League teams in the area for a decade, is in his first year as head coach at O'Connell. The Knights completed a 21-3 season and won their second consecutive Metro Conference and Virginia State Catholic League championships.