Archive for Thursday, August 24, 2000

Student-athletes everywhere are required to sign an anti-alcohol contract. In Eudora they are asked to …

Do the right thing’

August 24, 2000

A year ago a Shawnee Mission Northwest football player attempted to bring his alcohol-related suspension from the team into the legal system.

The ordeal was a short one.
The court upheld the senior's suspension because he had signed a binding contract at the start of the season proclaiming he would abstain from alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs and the punishment for violating the contract was clearly stated.

Just weeks later, three Eudora High students were suspended from the football team one week before the Cardinals' biggest game of the year.

There was no court case.

Action was swift, severe and everyone agreed just.

"This is a community that believes in high moral standards," said Eudora High Principal Marty Kobza.

There are no written contracts in Eudora.

Such contracts, Kobza says, are an insult to the vast majority of students who adhere to the rules and cast light on the negative.

That's a departure from the norm, where student contracts are a standard part of the preseason paperwork. The system in Eudora works for a number of reasons none more apparent than the fact that this is a community that polices itself. Winning football games takes a back seat to raising fine, upstanding citizens, says football coach Aaron Barnett.

The new policy
"I'm a teacher first and a coach second," he said. "My job first is to teach them to become adults, productive citizens and educate them about responsibility, being accountable and showing self-discipline."

Talk is cheap. A coach's actions speak more truthfully.

Barnett was forced to put his beliefs into place last year.

The Cardinals were 6-2 and had a chance to get into the Kansas Class 4A playoffs for the first time in a decade by defeating Gardner-Edgerton.

But no one in the community questioned whether they should use the three players all starters to achieve their on-field goal.

"No one said a word," Barnett said. "We did the right thing."

Still, Kobza and a panel of district principals and athletic directors spent the summer updating the school district's policy on alcohol, tobacco and drugs for high school and middle school students taking part in activities.

"In today's times, with things changing and society changing, there is no question that kids drink alcohol at times," said Dale Sample, principal at Eudora Middle School. "Drugs may also be a little more prevalent then they were when I was a teen, but there has to be consequences to one's actions."

The new policy, which will go before the school board for approval next month, actually goes away from the zero-tolerance rulings of previous years. A first offense carries with it a suspension of 25 percent of the remaining games and more important requires a student to take part in drug and alcohol counseling.

A second offense brings with it more counseling and a one-year suspension from all activities, while a third offense bars a student from taking part in activities for the remainder of his or her high school career.

A privilege
"I think this policy is well thought out," Sample said. "It's fair and it's consistent and that's what most people want."

Some might question a policy that has consequences far more severe for a student taking part in activities than one who is not. Those charged with coming up with the revised policy agreed that students who represent Eudora either on the athletics field or in some other activity, be it band, debate or cheerleading, need to be held to a higher standard.

"Participating in activities is a privilege. It's not a right," Sample said. "When you take part in an activity, you take on added responsibility because you represent yourself, your school, your community, your coaches and teachers and your fellow students.

"There are standards you abide by that have to be higher than those of the average student. If you're not willing to accept the added responsibility, then you shouldn't take it on."

No one involved with coming up with the new policy is naive to think that teen drinking isn't taking place in Eudora. However, part of growing up is learning to make the right decisions. Barnett is constantly reminding members of his team to make the right choices.

"I give the same speech every Friday," he said. "I tell them we've busted our tails for how many weeks or months and not to let one moment destroy what you've worked so hard for.

"If you know the consequences and you're still willing to do it, you better not be unhappy with your punishment."


The right thing
"The right thing" is a prevailing theme with Barnett, who, like Kobza, doesn't believe in players signing a contract. Instead, a simple set of three team rules is all that's necessary for him to police his squad.

"If I can ask you if this was the right thing and you can honestly answer yes, then we're OK," Barnett said. "I'm pretty simple. I'm a black-and-white kind of guy."

But a black-and-white kind of guy admittedly could run into trouble in a world filled with plenty of gray. What works for Barnett in Eudora might not work just a few miles to the east or west.

Many school districts nationwide have been burned by the lack of a signed contact, which is one reason most districts in the area do require a student's signature stating he or she has read the policy and understands the ramifications to his or her actions.

"It's a sign of the times that they have to sign something, said Sample, a former football coach at Perry-Lecompton, Topeka-Seaman and Silver Lake. "It's becoming more popular because the legality issue comes into play.

"I think it's a matter of ethics, a matter of morality. It's something you should expect from a student or an athlete as a good citizen because it's the right thing to do."

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