I want to present two hypothetical scenarios.
The first one involves a high school student who might be failing a class or two, or might have a discipline issue that is dealt with by school administration. The result could be in-school suspension, or detention, or something else.
The second one is a student with the same issues as the first — but he or she also is involved with a sports team or club. In this case the result might be an in-school suspension, or detention, or something else — in addition to not being allowed to participate in the sports or club activity until the grades improve.
This double punishment is a result of the so-called code of conduct that schools have in place.
When I went to school in the 1970s, no such code existed. In fact, not only was one expected to participate on sports teams, if you were unable to make the cut then intramural sports were offered as a substitute. And for good reason.
The benefits of being a part of a sports team are many. Along with exercise, it provides discipline, leadership, teamwork, game skills, structure and eliminating the idle time when teens often find themselves getting into trouble.
If schools actually want to “punish” a student, then maybe make them spend a week as part of a wrestling team’s practice. I guarantee they will never fail a course again.
That leads me to Nic Champion, a sophomore at Waterloo High School.
He played on the school’s junior varsity basketball team in 2016-17 and was a frequent contributor to the team effort both on offense and defense.
This year, his grades suffered, and he was declared ineligible. As expected, he was not permitted to play for the team.
However, after Nic’s grades improved to the satisfaction of the school, his coach refused to allow him back.
Nic’s dad, Ron, took the matter to the school’s Board of Education. By a vote of 7-1, Nic was allowed back on the team.
Since that decision every member of the team — there are 12 in all — has seen some playing time ... with the exception of Nic. This, even when the team had a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. Nic is seated, at the far left, in the accompanying photo.
To Nic’s credit, he sits calmly on the bench awaiting his turn while encouraging his teammates throughout the game. I know because I went to watch a Waterloo game last week against Palmyra-Macedon.
The coach has been asked why Nic isn’t playing, and Ron said the coach’s responses to the family have been “Nic doesn’t know the plays,” “he shoots too much,” and “he doesn’t hustle.”
Ron claims he has an email from the varsity coach that says “Nic is a great basketball player.” He says he has a voice message from Athletic Director Jeff Panek saying “Nic is a very good player.”
Nic is 16. His dad worries about how this basketball experience, which Ron considers a form of bullying, will affect his child. Ron feels it is retaliation against Nic because Ron went to the school board on the matter. He feels the coach’s hope now is that Nic will become frustrated and quit the team.
Working through proper protocol, I asked Panek about the situation. Panek, whom I consider a friend, wasn’t interested in commenting on the issue other than to say he felt it wasn’t something that should be discussed in the newspaper.
Mark Salvatore Pitifer is a guidance counselor at Waterloo and one of the stronger advocates for children in our area. Also a friend of mine, he coaches track and field at Geneva High School and can be found at a Waterloo or Geneva sporting event most nights throughout the school year. He knows Nic well since he is part of Project HOPE — HOPE stands for Help Our Pupils Engage — a program Pitifer oversees at Waterloo. He feels what is happening to Nic on the basketball team is counterproductive for a kid trying to do the right thing.
Pitifer believes that for some academically challenged students, sports can be something that prevents them from giving up — and he feels strongly that no one at Waterloo or at any other public school should ever give up on any student.
When asked about his decision to comment for this piece, Pitifer’s reply was simple: “What’s right is right.”
Keep in mind that both sides were given the opportunity to tell their story, but only one did. That said, one hopes that Nic is able to find a good path in life as he matures and just maybe lives up to his surname.
In the meantime, in my opinion, it’s time to ask the coaches to be the grownups in this situation.