To the student athlete a night off is a gift to be cherished. With practice and homework each weeknight and games every Friday and Saturday, time off is scarce. The unexpected blessing of a free night, and a Friday night at that, must have been like finding an extra Christmas present they had somehow overlooked. Cell phones purred to life, launching text messages like shooting stars across the Fredonia sky. Soon everyone had plans. Some got together with friends and played games. Others went to see “Avatar.” Long neglected boyfriends and girlfriends were cherished. Families were rediscovered. Still others chose to celebrate through activities which are unsanctioned for student athletes, a decision that will cost the players 10 critical days of eligibility.

Unfortunately, one of the truths of life is that the actions of individuals have consequences that reach far outside themselves. We each belong to many teams, and what we do affects others. It has yet to be seen how the actions of these players will affect their teams and their families. As fortune would have it, two of the youth involved are key players on their respective teams, one for the boys and one for the girls. These players have worked as hard and contributed as much to their teams as anyone. Because of their abilities and efforts, they have become intricate parts of their teams as the season has progressed. Now the teams must learn to play without them.

Does it hurt? It hurts. Have the players let their teams down? They have. Is it the end of the world? It is not. Such events either bless or curse nearly every season, depending on how the teams respond to the adversity. When one player falters, others must step forward and take up the slack. The offending players may even get the opportunity to redeem themselves in the district tournament. Although this one night will undoubtedly be a turning point in the season, the direction of the road ahead has yet to be determined.

Sure the players have messed up, but which of us has not? Who can look back on their youth without a single regret? It is the nature of youth that its every action is magnified a thousand times. If life is short, youth is infinitely shorter. Every moment is poignant, priceless, and irretrievable. During youth, the juices of life are sweetest and most bitter. Just as these young people, however misguided, refused to waste one night of their lives, they must now refuse to let one night waste the rest of their lives.

These events are but one negative term in the infinitely complex equation of life to which the balance has yet to be determined. I cannot tell them that their actions won’t haunt them now and later in life. Why should they be any different than the rest of us? I can tell them that life goes on. Accept your mistakes. Learn from them. Don’t rationalize. As your coaches, parents and friends, we see your potential. All of you have great potential. Go forward and, please, make better decisions.