"If it isn't a jock school," says a former teacher and dean, "the jocks are the most powerful at the school."
If jocks rule, the boys who play lacrosse now are kings. The game, played with netted sticks and a hard rubber ball, can be as violent as football but with fewer pads. It requires the finesse of soccer and adds the brutality of rugby.
In the last two decades, coach Robinson "Rob" Bordley has built the squad into a national powerhouse. Lacrosse Magazine named it the top team in the country in 2000 and 2001. At the time of the cheating scandal, Landon had not lost a conference game in ten years.
Landon attracts promising students who want to excel at sports. Lacrosse stars get into Princeton, Duke, and the University of Virginia. Lacrosse helps the school raise big money from alumni.
"What brings in money better than a great sports team?" says one alum and donor to the school. "It's not that they had a great school play but that they won the big game. Right or wrong, it's true."
At the library table at Holton-Arms that October morning, five of the ten Landon boys were senior members of the lacrosse team. One was a co-captain; one was a promising goalie; one was the star midfielder; one was the coach's son. Three of the lacrosse players were sons of Landon alums. One already was all but admitted to Princeton.
They were the lords of spring, Landon's best.
THE CHEATING STARTED SLOWLY. ONE student had smuggled in a hand-held electronic dictionary. Those who were strong in verbal skills had agreed to swap answers with their friends who had scored high in math. Two of the boys earlier had scored very well on both math and verbal; they would help friends who had the lowest scores.
Why would students with good scores be taking the test again? Landon requires all seniors to do so.
Will Anderson was one of the two boys facing the eight across the table. He was not a lacrosse player but was an example of the well-rounded Landon boy. He had entered Landon in third grade, the school's beginning class. Nine years later, midway through his senior year, he had very good grades and a spotless discipline record. He played ice hockey and lettered in cross-country. A lean, handsome boy with dark, wavy hair, he lives with his parents, Byron and Mary, in a big home in Chevy Chase.
Byron Anderson is a lawyer and lobbyist serving as a Bush appointee in the Agriculture department's Risk Management Agency. Mary is a banker. She grew up two streets away from her current home. Her father and brother went to Landon, her father once having served as chair of Landon's board. Will's younger sister attends Holton-Arms.
Will was president of Landon's choir. Last year Harvard selected him as one of 50 high-school students to tour the East Coast performing and broadcasting live on NPR. He was a choirboy but not an angel: He and his friends had gotten into a few scrapes outside of school; the license plate on his Jeep reads BADBOYS.
At the October 12 SAT, Will Anderson started off as one of the good boys. He had not been invited to swap answers. His previous score was high enough to get into a good college.
The test is given in three sections, with breaks in between. As there were no proctors around and the boys were tucked away out of sight, the eight shared answers near the end of each session. Heads popped up to see if a proctor was in sight. Answers were whispered back and forth.
Anderson and the boy next to him watched as answers were traded, but they were not in on the deals. Then, according to Anderson, the boy next to him asked him to get answers from one of the eight on the other side—the lacrosse goalie.
The goalie stood up and read answers to math questions to Anderson, who punched them into his calculator. He passed the calculator to the student next to him, who translated the numbers into letters and filled in his multiple-choice boxes.
At noon the boys turned in their tests and sauntered out into the warm fall day. They were feeling good. Will Anderson hadn't used the answers, but he felt like part of the in crowd.
Monday morning in Landon's senior lounge, the cheating was all the talk. Everyone seemed to know about it; some boys gave the test-takers slaps on the back.
ALUMNI, STUDENTS, AND PARENTS INTER-viewed for this article say cheating is not unusual at Landon. Pressure to get good grades is high; the boys know one another well and want to help out; and the faculty is not eager to catch cheaters and turn them in. Adding to the pressure are strict grading policies that make it hard to maintain high grade averages.
"I certainly had the impression there was a culture of cheating when I was there," says film producer Castaldi. "I failed a Spanish class that others got through by cheating."
Says Damon Bradley: "More often than cheating, we run into plagiarism from the Internet. Cheating is not something we see in large numbers by any means."
Cheating has become enough of a problem that a businessman who sent several sons to Landon was moved to write a six-page letter to the school's board of trustees early this year. Most of his boys had had positive experiences there, but one had been expelled for cheating. The man, a former member of Landon's board, had investigated.
"Without exception, everyone we talked with told us that there was widespread cheating throughout Landon," he wrote. All of his sons "over a fifteen-year period of time said that cheating was rampant in each of their classes and had gotten worse over the years."
The board never responded to the letter; board chair Henry Dudley refused the letter writer's request to appear before the board on the grounds that it would set a bad precedent.
Given that culture and the pressure to succeed--good grades and high SAT scores mean a top college and happy parents--sharing answers on the SAT may have seemed a smart move.
Said the goalie that Monday in the senior lounge: "I'm so set."
LARRY LAMADE, LANDON'S OUTSIDE GEN-eral counsel, was at home the Monday night after the SAT when a friend called.
"Did you hear about the cheating on the SATs?" the friend asked. The caller did not have a son at Landon, but his daughter had taken the test at Holton-Arms. Everyone seemed to know that Landon boys had swapped answers.
"News to me," Lamade responded.
Larry Lamade knew almost everything about Landon. A lawyer at Akin, Gump, he's a Landon man through and through. His father, a career Naval officer, had brought the family to Washington when Lamade was in grade school. He had entered Landon in third grade and graduated in 1965, one year ahead of lacrosse coach Rob Bordley. A short man who has turned husky as a lawyer, Lamade was a jock at Landon, playing soccer, baseball, golf, and football. Lamade went to Princeton and Georgetown law school, served two years in Vietnam, returned to Washington, and became active in the Landon alumni association.
In 1980 Lamade joined the board of trustees; he became chair in 1989 and ran the board until he left it in 1993. One of his first acts as chair was to hire Damon Bradley as headmaster. In the last few years, Lamade has donated his time as counsel to the board and to the headmaster.
Lamade's older son graduated from Landon; the younger, Peter, was a starter on the lacrosse team when his father took the call that Monday night.
After the call, Lamade had to make choices in several capacities: as a father, as a lawyer, and as a Landon alumnus.
"It was a funny situation," he tells me months later, after the lacrosse season and graduation. "I chose to sit and listen."
Interviewed in the conference room at Akin, Gump, Lamade refers in a joking manner to the boys who sat next to one another as the "notorious eight."
"Did I have an obligation to pass on rumors as counsel to the school?" Lamade says. "I came to the conclusion--no."
DAMON BRADLEY GOT WORD OF THE cheating that same Monday. An educator from another school called to say he had heard about Landon boys cheating on the SAT. At first Bradley discounted it as misinformation. But the head of the upper school, William Crittenberger, got a call from a parent who related rumors of cheating at Holton-Arms the previous Saturday. He told Bradley. "It was impossible to imagine," Bradley says.