As homecoming nears at Severna Park High School, an Anne Arundel powerhouse that dominates its county in both academics and sports, the talk around campus is that this time, the jocks have gone too far.

High school is nothing if not hierarchical. So when school administrators decreed this month that only athletes, and the performers who support them at games, may participate in the school's homecoming pep rally Oct. 14, the decision triggered outrage and hurt across a wide spectrum of Severna students who do not compete on a field etched in paint.

Apart from the competitors, only cheerleaders and the marching band will be allowed to promote pep in the afternoon assembly that precedes the homecoming game against Old Mill Senior High. The dance team was belatedly added to the list after a petition drive and persistent talk that to deny dancers athlete status bordered on sexism.

But at a campus with three different dance clubs, and 42 student clubs in all, the pervasive view is that the list is not nearly long enough.

"I think a lot of us are starting to feel that sports are taking precedence over every other activity," said Anya Lamb, 17, a Severna Park senior.

The dispute illustrates the sometimes delicate rapport between high school athletics and the other, smaller student endeavors that compete for recognition and support.

It also raises a question about the purpose of homecoming, said Pallas Snider, a Severna Park senior who sits on the county Board of Education: "Is it about the school as a whole, or is it about the athletic teams?" Exactly whom is a pep rally supposed to invigorate?

Few communities take their high school sports more seriously than does Severna Park. Eighty percent of students at the high school will take part in some kind of interscholastic athletic event by the end of the school year, according to William Myers, the principal. County coaches have voted Severna Park the No. 1 sports school in Anne Arundel for eight years running. Last spring, the school captured seven county sports championships. And such is the zeal of parents that when a player was cut from the girls' lacrosse team last spring, the family hired lawyers to mount an appeal.

"We're almost as bad as Texas," joked Eugene Peterson, an adult member of the school board.

According to Myers, it was Wayne Mook, longtime athletic director at Severna Park, who envisioned "a more traditional pep rally" this year. He felt that the event had drifted from its true purpose -- inspiriting the athletes and their fans -- to the point that the roster of performers last year included a group called Students Against Destructive Decisions.

"It was not like a pep rally. It was more like a show," Myers said. "We want to re-create a pep rally of the past."

Students are taken from their classes to attend the annual pep rally, which makes it one of a very few chances for lesser-known student organizations to appear before the entire school.

Some of the groups accustomed to sharing that stage are now accusing Mook and others in the athletic department of harboring thinly veiled disdain.

"Mr. Mook has openly said, 'Dancers aren't athletes,' even though the cheerleaders are allowed to perform," said Lamb, addressing the school board along with a few classmates last week.

In another widely circulated comment, student government adviser Robert Thomas is alleged to have asked student leaders, in a mirthful tone, whether a place should be reserved for the chess club in the roster of homecoming events.

Neither man returned telephone calls to confirm or deny the remarks. Myers said only that he "would never support those kinds of comments."

Nor, it seems, would many students at Severna Park.

"They said that dancing is not a sport," said Christine Holtermann, a junior who is captain of the intermediate dance company. "We do Tae Bo. We do splits. I mean, no athlete can do a split. Ask a football player to do a split."

In this war of words, little has been said about the merit of Mook's proposal: Would an old-fashioned rally inspire more pep?

Students and staff alike acknowledge a turgid quality to recent pep rallies. The nadir, it seems, came last year, when a theatrical number from the science-fiction musical "Starmites" left students flummoxed.

Myers said that when dancers were invited to this year's event, he reminded them that "if you want to go out and do your normal dance routine," such as "Sabre Dance" from the ballet "Gayane," "that's showcasing you. That's not showcasing the athletes."

Members of the football team, caught at the center of the debate, have been hesitant to choose sides. The father of one player, reached by phone on a recent evening, said he was reluctant to even broach the topic with his son on the night before a big game and risk disrupting his mental preparations.

Tom Massie, a senior and one of four varsity football captains, said he hasn't much enjoyed the past few pep rallies and would welcome a bit more focus on the impending contest with Old Mill.

"The pep rally is supposed to be for the football team," he said, in a weary voice. "It really is."