Don't Chase Them Away, Teach Them To Make Better Decisions

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Sorting through the consequences doled out this past year to Payson High School students who violated athletic discipline policies can be thorny and difficult to understand.

The controversy reached a peak midweek when editor Autumn Phillips and I received numerous phone calls alleging school administrators applied a set of double standards when dishing out punishment last fall to several football players and, weeks ago, to a Lady Longhorn basketball player.

Callers wanted to know why the football players were banned from the team for the remainder of the season, which amounted to seven games, and the basketball team member sat out only four games and will be eligible to play this evening in the East regional tournament.

The callers alleged both the football players and the basketball team member committed the same violations of school codes, which involved off-campus drinking of alcohol.

Therefore, they should have received the same discipline rather than vastly difference consequences.

For the football players, the infractions ended their season just a few games into the campaign.

Callers said, it was a devastating punishment for the teenagers.

One player even left the team and transferred to another school, taking his family with him.

But the basketball player, after sitting out four games, will be eligible to return to the court to play in both the regional and state tournament.

The reason the consequences were different for the football players and basketball athlete rests with coach and school policies.

Football coach Josh Anderson's team policy was to dismiss for the season any player found guilty of consuming alcohol.

School policy dictates coaches can make their own team rules as long as they meet minimum district standards.

Anderson chose to make his rules and regulations much stricter than school policies, which call for a suspension of 20 percent of the season for off-campus alcohol violations.

At the onset of the season, the players and parents were told of the rule and a contract explaining it was signed.

So, when Anderson and school officials learned of the drinking incident at party in rural Star Valley, the players were dismissed from the team.

Technically, the school did not suspend them, but rather the players were let go for violations of team rules.

When the basketball player was learned to have violated the student athletic discipline policy while visiting in Whiteriver, her suspension was governed by school rules, which was for 20 percent of the season or four games.

After taking over the program at the onset of the season, coach Grant Coley opted to have his players abide by the student athletic policy rather than setting different rules.

For many, the differences in consequences seem to represent a double standard.

But, in fact, the football players were disciplined under a coach's stricter policy and the basketball player suspended under school student athletic discipline standards.

In the muddle, one fact is for certain. If the athletes had been found to have consumed alcohol on campus or at a school extracurricular event, they could have suffered long-term suspension.

That occurred last year when two girls were suspended for alcohol-related offenses that allegedly occurred on campus and at a football game in Safford.

As a former teacher of the two students, I personally felt the punishment was excessive. The two were fine young girls, overflowing with potential, who made a mistake.

Years of teaching and coaching have me believing that we don't chase kids off. We keep them involved and try to help them make better choices.

An important part of adolescence is learning from mistakes.

The bottom line is that student athletes' conduct is much more scrutinized than that of other students.

If a regular student commits an infraction off campus, outside school hours, district officials have no jurisdiction and there are no consequences.

But a student athlete must abide by the school discipline or a coach's policy 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In untangling the mess, it's clear that administrators are not intentionally playing favorites in doling out discipline. Rather, they are trying to support district and coaches' policies.

But, is the current discipline system fair to all?

That's up for debate.

As a retired teacher and coach, I believe the zero-tolerance polices that were passed down from a school board of 20 years ago should be abolished.

If there is any good to come out of the current turmoil, it will be that school administrators and coaches are now working to study and revise past policies in an effort to come up with a student athletic discipline plan that is equitable to all.

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