Absence of Accountability in Recent High School Attacks

Toward the beginning of 2013, Lockport (N.Y.) High School athletic director Patrick Burke was the recipient of the 2013 Empire State Supervisors and Administrators Association's Administrator of the Year Award. He has been praised by his peers for his work ethic and leadership, and for being a role model at the school he loves and within the community he serves. Toward the end of 2013, Burke found himself the recipient of something entirely different: a beating by two intoxicated students he attempted to confront for unruly behavior at a basketball scrimmage.

The 55-year-old administrator suffered a bloody nose, as well as lip and facial cuts. Meanwhile, 67-year-old school monitor George F. Apolito Jr. was also injured, as he suffered cuts inside his lip, on his cheek and hand, and a loose tooth. To add insult to injury, his eyeglasses were broken. The 18-year-old assailant later admitted he had been drinking whiskey with his 16-year-old coconspirator, something not uncommon for him as he admitted to smoking marijuana and drinking daily since he was 13. Meanwhile, the 16-year-old's attorney stated that the boy's mother, sister and cousin had all given up on trying to help the troubled teen.

The teens were sentenced to state prison in March, and the Niagara County judge recommended they be assigned to a bootcamp-style program known as Shock Incarceration, with the hope that this program could do something their families could not, or more accurately, had no interest in doing — actually helping them.

Moving across the country, in February three levels of girls' basketball games were to be held between Stockton, Calif., high schools St. Mary's and host McNair. The varsity game was to be a showcase of two of the top teams in the state. After a narrow five-point loss to 21-4 St. Mary's three weeks earlier, 23-3 McNair was hoping to see its team snap St. Mary's state-record 186-game league winning streak. But it was a game that never happened.

During the freshman game, play had to be stopped when a McNair fan began punching the wife of St. Mary's freshman coach Alex Rivera. St. Mary's varsity coach Tom Gonsalves pulled the junior varsity and varsity teams from the gym rather than subject St. Mary's to further potential confrontations. As a result, St. Mary's forfeited its games at those levels.

So what is the connection between these seemingly unrelated high school incidents? Accountability. We are all bearing witness to the decline of accountability in youth and high school athletics. More often than not, a parent is quick to point the finger at anyone except himself or herself. In my inaugural Tuesday Takedown blog, I challenged the parents focusing on lawsuits over life lessons to lead by example and be role models for their children. This applies to the two incidents referenced in this column, as well.

The decline of high school sportsmanship is spotlighted on page 51, and one of the biggest challenges for high school administrators today is answering this question: How do we get back to education-based athletics and away from the winning-at-all-costs mentality that is so dominant in interscholastic athletics today? One part of that answer is with positive parental involvement. There needs to be a cultural shift away from the modern parent who screams at officials and opposing players and fans. We need parents who are truly invested in their child's wellbeing, parents who are committed to setting the right example for their child, and perhaps most important, parents who practice the lost art of accountability and understand that regardless of circumstance, the buck stops with them.

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Athletic Business under the headline, "Parental Advisory."

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