Guilt by Association in High School Athletic Codes Must Include Common Sense

As is the case at times, a legitimate circumstance or situation arises, placing into question a “rule” or expectation a school has for its students―in this case, student athletes.

This circumstance can cause a shift in the thought process of the governing committee who oversees this rule. That shift can be so drastic that decisions are made which represent a complete pendulum swing in the opposite direction, demonstrating the loss of perspective on the original intent of that rule.

Such is the case in Milford, Massachusetts where a school district administration has moved away from a position where athletes were not allowed to attend functions―“parties”―where illegal substances―alcohol―are being consumed by minors.

A recent story in the Milford Patch, School Committee Relaxes No-Exceptions Policy for Athletes and Parties, details a situation where a student athlete who was attending just such a function called 911 because of their concern over a fellow student who had too much to drink.

The student athlete who made the call was later suspended from participating in their sport due to the “guilt by association” piece of the athletic code which states they are not allowed to attend parties where there are illegal activities going on. Because of this situation, the policy was revisited and the Milford School District subsequently changed it.

The assumption now is that student athletes can attend parties where underage drinking is taking place, without consequence, if they do not consume.

On the surface, especially based on this particular situation, it looks as if the governing committee has made a wise decision. When the health and safety of a student is at risk, there should be little to no consequence for one who takes the initiative to help them out.

That 911 call represents a mature, thoughtful, and caring choice. It is the kind of choice that can save lives; there is certainly no argument about that.

However, in my mind, there was no reason to completely throw out an expectation that holds student athletes accountable. Behavior that helps them strengthen character and achieve individual and/or team goals.

It is this type of situation (like the one that happened in Milford) that shows why rules cannot always be so black and white, only one way or the other. Just a sprinkle of common sense is all that is needed here.

In a situation where a student makes a positive choice that helps keep the health and safety of a fellow student (students) intact, then the normal consequence that put the reporting student in that particular circumstance should be waived. I don’t think anyone would claim “favoritism” in a situation like the one presented here.

Oh I do think there should be some strong conversations with the student about their attendance at such a party, along with a pat on the back for such a smart and tough choice to make that call, but suspension from their sport, not in this case.

What the Milford School District has accomplished with their change in stance is to open the door for athletes to blatantly attend these functions, and they will attend them, and a very high majority will drink at them.

From a student’s mind set (remember they are not adults yet and are not capable of thinking like adults), it is now OK to attend parties where there is alcohol being consumed by minors as long as you do not drink. Again, most all, if not all, will partake.

The problem, one many school districts have faced when trying to hold student athletes accountable for their “partying” is that (unless there is hard evidence) many students will show the same poor character decision that put them in this situation in the first place and just lie about their consumption.

I have been teaching a long time and, over my 32+ year career, I’ve seen a definite increase in the attitude that you have only done something wrong, or broken a rule, if you get caught. This, to me, is a problem.

Now I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea here about this rule, the one where you are guilty by association if you attend functions where illegal activities are going on. There certainly is a lot of underage drinking going on almost every weekend in just about every community in the U.S., even in school districts who still have this expectation.

However, swinging the pendulum in the complete opposite direction is not necessarily a good solution as this piece of the athletic code does help, as it holds purpose for some student athletes and their families.

My take, keep the rule, just add a little common sense when applying consequence.

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