Winding up on the wrong pages

Published 8:41 am Monday, June 27, 2011

Without question, the most uncomfortable stories to run are the negative ones about people for whom you have developed a fondness.

I have spent the bulk of the last few years as a sports writer for The Times, but in my efforts to remain entirely unbiased, I have rooted for every young man or woman to put on a uniform and step onto a field or court.

Of course it is fun to see them succeed in their athletic endeavors, but I have genuinely rooted for them as people. It may not be the way they teach you to do it in journalism classes, but it is the way I have done it. And it has worked out pretty well for me so far.

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I have seen a few dozen young Marengo County athletes sign college scholarships. I have seen others land academic honors and college funds to accompany their accomplishments.

In more cases than not, I have seen them go off to college and do something positive.

Still, it is always sad to see those who flounder after high school. Good athletes. Good people. No direction. Many of them do not enroll in classes and struggle to find gainful employment.

As someone who legitimately roots for them, it is a difficult thing to watch. But as tough as that can be, there is a small group that is even tougher to see.

The toughest thing to see are the kids who make bad decisions that lead to legal issues. Then you find yourself putting familiar names in the newspaper for negative reasons rather than the positive moments that previously chronicled their high school careers.

In nearly three and a half years at The Demopolis Times, I have seen a handful of these cases.

I have covered one former high school basketball star who got himself pinched on drug possession charges.

The worst one to date has been a football and basketball standout who was arrested and charged with murder. He was still in his senior year at the time.

But there have been some alarming occurrences just in the few weeks since local high schools held their graduation ceremonies.

Arrest reports turned in from local law enforcement agencies over the last three weeks have featured the names of no fewer than three area football players from the Class of 2011.

One was arrested for marijuana possession, one for robbery and one for rape.

Understand that I am not complaining about having to run such things in print as the nature of this job is to document and report the news, both good and bad.

But what we are unable to document is the space in between the on-field accolades and the off-field arrests. What happens to a young person with such tremendous potential that leads them to poor, and sometimes criminal, decisions?

The answer to that question will probably never see print or be stored in scrapbooks. And with its vanishing go the names of the young people we all used to root for and the key to preventing others from similar fates.

Jeremy D. Smith is the sports editor of the Demopolis Times.