If you are among those who saw gang signs being flashed in a picture of the Payson High School boys track team that appeared in the May 12 edition of the Payson Roundup, you can relax.
Those weren't gang signs.
Take a closer look and you will see they simply represent "06" for the class of 2006. The signs were a show of pride for the senior class at PHS.
Apparently, I wasn't the only one who fielded phone calls about the alleged gang signs. PHS athletic director Dave Bradley received complaints as well.
It isn't the first time either of us has heard grumblings of gang signs being flashed.
A few years ago, a picture appeared in the sports pages of two Longhorn wrestlers flashing the "Hook 'em Horns" signs.
It was also a show of school pride.
In Texas, where the Longhorn is the university's mascot, that sign is an everyday occurrence. At the sight of them, alumni's chests swell with pride.
In Payson, where our mascot is also the Longhorn, the popular sign was misconstrued as being gang related.
Most dispiriting about this strange controversy is that the callers, who usually refuse to give their name, have no idea who the kids are they are complaining about.
Most of teens are fine young men -- student leaders who also excel academically.
They can't have grades below a "C" or they are not eligible to participate in sports. More than 10 of the track team members have received Arizona Interscholastic Association Scholar Athlete awards.
In addition to going to school full time and participating in interscholastic sports, many of them hold down part-time jobs and some do volunteer work.
One of the boys in the picture that drew complaints volunteers at the St. Vincent de Paul food bank.
Another is one of two nominees for the 1A-3A Arizona Scholar Athlete of the Year Award.
Several are active in their church and some have been, or are now, ranking members of Boy Scouts of America.
Most have set goals of attending college or having military careers.
Three members from the Longhorns 4x800 record-holding team of two years ago are now in the military and have, or will soon, serve in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During my coaching career, I usually tried to wrap up at least one practice each week patting the players on the back for their commitment to improving themselves as an athlete, student and person.
I would tell them that it's not an easy choice to participate in an interscholastic sport.
There are grueling after-school practices, off-season training, academic demands and the challenges of being a part of a team.
I'd say, it would be much easier for a teenager to go home after school, sit on the couch, play video games and munch on cookies than it is to sweat and grunt your way through wind sprints, calisthenics, weight training and scrimmages.
I'd tell the team, "You have chosen to leave your comfort zone and you should be proud of that." By being a part of a challenging athletic environment, the teenagers have set personal goals of developing strong work ethics, learning spirits of cooperation and developing their leadership skills. It's troubling that those who claim they saw gang signs in the track team picture never really took the opportunity to get to know those teenagers. Had they gone by campus to watch a practice, exchange greetings, take in a meet or volunteer in a classroom, they might have become the kids' biggest fans rather than the ones who wailed of evil in an innocent hand gesture.