As the clock wound down on the 2006 Payson High School football season last Friday night, fans may have left the bleachers with a feeling of disappointment because of the team's meager 4-6 record.
But for some of the athletes, this football season may prove to be the most valuable experience of their young lives.
For others, especially one young man and his parents, the season may linger as a dark cloud -- a shaded memory created by a bad decision followed by a worse decision.
A number of years ago our school district adopted the Character Counts program -- an ideal that teaches how good character connects directly to success, whether it's in the classroom, in the work force, or on the ballfield.
Every day, dedicated teachers, administrators and coaches strive to teach our children the six pillars of character: caring, trustworthiness, respect, citizenship, responsibility and fairness.
First-year football coach Josh Anderson showed all of us that these are not just empty words. At the beginning of the year he asked all his players to make a commitment to stay drug- and alcohol-free for the season. The players accepted and signed a participation agreement. The consequences for breaking the agreement were very clear -- if players were caught drinking alcohol or taking drugs, they would be kicked off the team for the remainder of the season.
In September, law enforcement officers caught five varsity team players drinking at a forest party, and Coach Anderson removed them from the team.
Another coach may have been shortsighted, and compromised his principles by letting the offenders play, despite the written agreement.
But Anderson understood that this would only cheat the boys and do great damage to the program he is trying to build. We hope the school board recognizes that Anderson stood tall and did exactly what needed to be done to teach these young men how to be their best. We look forward to seeing Coach Anderson back next year to continue his work, building boys of character and skill.
Unfortunately, one young man's parents taught their son a very different lesson.
In anger over the coach's decision, they pulled their student out of PHS and enrolled him in a rival Arizona school so he could continue to play football. They thought this was best for his future. But in doing so, they did a grave disservice to their son, the coach, and possibly even society.
We live in a world where much sadness and disappointment can be traced back to men who never learned what Coach Anderson is trying to teach -- and it has nothing to do with football.
Everywhere you turn you can find women and children who suffer emotionally and physically because of a man who did not honor his commitments. We see corporate businessmen abandoning their commitments to employees and stockholders. We see politicians ignoring their promises to voters. Herein lies one of society's greatest downfalls.
Whether it's a high school sports agreement, a business contract, a marriage covenant or a child support ruling -- our young men must be taught to honor commitments.
In transferring their son, these parents inadvertently taught their child that it's OK to break laws, dodge commitments, avoid consequences and abandon responsibility.
The last thing this world needs is more young men who think this is acceptable.
It's disappointing that the Arizona Interscholastic Association tolerated such a midseason transfer that allowed a player to avoid consequences for his actions.
On their Web site, the AIA promotes the association's core values with their signature program they call "Pursuing Victory With Honor," which is designed to facilitate the development of the whole child -- both in character and athletic ability. In this case, the association and the receiving school, Blue Ridge, failed to work together to sustain honor. They may have allowed a student to follow the letter of the law, but they didn't stand behind a coach trying to teach a higher, more important law of personal responsibility and commitment.
To the parents who saw the bigger picture and supported the coach's decision, we thank you. We commend you for taking the path that wise parents must take for the betterment of their children, even when it hurts -- even when it means seeing your sons miss out on something they love. But in the end, you taught the greater lesson -- a lesson more powerful than any state championship and a memory more lasting and valuable than any dramatic touchdown run. You taught your sons to be men -- to be the kind of person people can count on, to be persons of character.