South River girls' basketball coach John Wardell yesterday admitted violating a state athletic rule when he allowed his team to practice against Anne Arundel Community College on Jan. 6. Wardell will face an arbitration hearing Tuesday.

The practice violated Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association rules, which state "graduates of high schools are not eligible to practice with or participate on interscholastic sports teams."

"I didn't think it was a big deal," Wardell said. ". . . I know of many schools that have graduating players come back during Christmas break or spring break and practice with their team from the previous year. However, it's illegal. I had no clue."

Sources close to the situation said the Anne Arundel women's team also practiced at Broadneck. Marlene Kelly, athletic supervisor for Anne Arundel County, declined to comment because it is a personnel matter. Broadneck Coach Diane Casey declined to comment.

Penalties for South River could range from probation to postseason ineligibility. Wardell, who has the right to appeal any decision, could also be censured -- given a letter in his file noting he violated a rule. He could also be declared ineligible to coach the rest of the school year.

"He thought [the practice] could only help his girls," South River assistant athletic director Greg Carroll said. "He wasn't thinking whether it was right or wrong."

Wardell said a former basketball player, who is a member of the Anne Arundel team, called him and asked if they could practice at South River because the community college's gymnasium floor was being repainted.

"Around 8:05, I said maybe it wouldn't hurt if we ran a few drills and situations with each other," Wardell said. "That's what it amounted to. We did for about 20 minutes."

South River's athletic department received a fax from another county school accusing Wardell of scrimmaging against the women's team, which he denies. South River Athletic Director Jim Haluck called Kelly and informed her of the practice session.

"What I have a problem with more than anything else is that I feel this has been accepted practice for a long time," Wardell said. "Did I break a rule in this book? I did. Could I tap dance around it? Sure. Why do that? Let's bring it out in the open and make the schools aware this doggone rule exists."