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Building Character, Self-Respect, Integrity & Honesty

Written by fatherfrank  |  20. November 2003

Every day as parents we are battling with our children. The battlefield can be the dinner table, the school corridor, the playing field, the basketball court, the local pizza parlor or the neighborhood mall. As parents, we are battling for the positive development of our children's morals and ethics.
Unfortunately, for a growing number of parents, that is a battlefield people are choosing not to fight on. Why? Because it is frightening and at times overwhelming. However, it is a battle being waged and lost every day in every venue in every community.
So what do we do? As a community, we need to hold each other accountable and responsible. At Mepham High School, that community is trying to hold people accountable not only for the despicable, violent behavior of a few athletes, but also for the deafening silence of an entire team.
The school community holds the coaches accountable. The coaches are teachers. Sports are supposed to be educational tools. It seems that those teachers failed. Good teachers fail at times. We parents fail also.
The issue of coaches and athletes becomes complicated. Oftentimes coaches spend more connected time with their athletes than parents do.
Sometimes a coach has a more profound influence, especially in ethical decision-making than parents do.
Sports by their very nature encourage self-discipline, mutual cooperation, achieving common goals, hard work, self-sacrifice and leadership. Some of the things that happen on a playing field have a greater influence on the life of a young person than sitting in a Math or English class. Many valuable life lessons are learned on and off the playing field. But they are born and nurtured in the context of competitive athletics.
The unfortunate events that took place during the football camp for the Mepham football team this summer severely fractured our false sense of security.
Rightness and wrongness are virtues that one hopes are strengthened around the dinner table, if one has dinner with one's children. Those positive virtues are then further strengthened at school and/or at school related activities.
One would hope that by high school young men and women would know that inserting a broomstick, golf ball and/or pinecone in one's anus is clearly, without a doubt or a moment's hesitation, wrong.
It is also wrong that the team leadership did not go to the coaches, other adults or other team players who witnessed the first act of violence. Possibly, had someone spoken up after boy number one was victimized maybe all the shame, blame and polarization of this community could have been avoided.
At a recent school board meeting, emotions were high. The school board voted not to renew the contracts of all the football coaches. The coaches felt that was not fair. Many of their colleagues on staff felt that they were wronged. They further expressed that what happened at camp could have happened on anyone's watch. Maybe.
The fact of the matter is that it happened this summer at the Mepham football camp in Pennsylvania. Three freshmen players were victimized and continue to be victimized.
The issue has polarized this small community. People, young and old alike need the freedom to express themselves. Whatever the side of the issue you stand on, you need to communicate your position with respect and dignity.
Unfortunately, that has not been the case. Adults standing up in public and cursing each other out is not going to facilitate peace and understanding. Students getting up in frustration and cursing out adults is not going to build new bridges for healing and moving on.
That school board meeting could have been a wonderful learning opportunity for all in attendance. Unfortunately, the only lessons learned that night were ways to fuel the fires of anger and resentment among people already wounded and bleeding from some lesson plans not properly implemented.
It seems we have lost sight, not just in Mepham, but also in many schools across the country that sports and athletics are not just for weekend entertainment or to be used merely as tools to get a student into a reasonable college. The partnership between academics, athletics and human development needs to be revived and dug out of the rubble of human selfishness. It needs to be repositioned on a playing field where all the players, students, parents, teachers and coaches play fair. We need to re-clarify the rules and make sure we all play by the same rules. These rules should build character, integrity, self-respect and honesty.
Too much of the talk on the streets of Bellmore and Merrick these days is about a great football program, with great potential and possibility that has been left in ruins, rather than about the shattered lives of so many fine young athletes.
If we are developing exceptional athletes and great academic students and not great people with positive values and morals, haven't we really failed?
And what about when the story of the perverse that violence started to emerge and the parents who urged their kids who witnessed it to keep their mouths shut for fear they might be dragged into this? Remember, this was not merely sophomoric hazing, but rather barbaric acts of violence purposely committed against three fellow players.
Clearly, we have failed the test. The syllabus definitely needs to be revised. We need to do our homework over. Hopefully next time we will do more than just pass by the skin of our teeth, but will pass with a respectable and honorable grade.
If we don't, our children may not pass the final that really counts towards life.

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