A good lesson for the kiddies out there

A message to student-athletes all over Northern Nevada: Don't ever forget what happened in Galena on Thursday.

Students learn a lot in school, probably more than they'll need out in the real world. But the lesson Galena High School principal Ross Gregory gave us all Thursday is probably the most important one you'll ever learn.

The message was simple: Accept responsibility for your mistakes, and in the end, do the right thing.

The Galena baseball controversy took us to the NIAA's offices twice, to court three times and postponed the North's marquee baseball event two days. Perhaps this whole mess ran its course, or maybe Gregory just woke up Thursday morning and decided it was time to end this.

I hope the students were listening, or they'll miss out on a rare chance to witness integrity in action. In 20 years, we may not remember who won the 2000 zone baseball championship, let alone how our favorite team did. But we'll remember that Gregory put his reputation in the Galena community (and maybe even his job) on the line, all in the name of making this whole mess right.

By doing what was right, Gregory restored the spirit of high school athletics, with all of its virtues of fair play intact.

Pundits all over the area probably greet Gregory's edict with a dash of cynicism - after all, it was his school that dragged us through this mess.

My question is, how long would it have taken us to make the same call? In a situational vacuum, where our decisions are nothing more than hypothetical, most would obviously claim to make the right decision immediately.

But Gregory had a whole team full of students to think about, let alone an entire community, complete with a powerful army of boosters and, as we've since learned, lawyers. Balancing the needs of the many takes time, and it's to Gregory's credit he stopped this madness before it overshadowed the entire tourney.

So while some may claim Gregory wasted all our time, he made the right decision - one that some of us would've been afraid to make.

It's a breath of fresh air. Parents and concerned parties all over the area were calling the sports desk this week asking what happened in court that day. Baseball talk was replaced by discussion of ad hoc committees and NIAA regulations.

One caller jokingly suggested that he knows what to do if his daughter's volleyball team doesn't fare well next season. It was obvious this dilemma was opening a Pandora's box that was a threat to the future of high school athletics as we know it.

Still, this was big news and had to be covered. Two teams that played by the rules were hanging in the balance because of a mistake made by a third team. And so the situation played out like a Mobius strip: How do you appropriately discipline a team without affecting those who played by the rules?

Nobody articulated the answer better than Sparks coach Rob Hastings, whose team was fighting for its playoff life in a court of law.

"Someone needs to step up to the plate and do the right thing," he said Wednesday, using a metaphor that stated the issue succinctly and made us feel ashamed for thinking this was about something other than baseball.

Hastings was talking about Galena, in so many words. The only way to fix this was to have one of the three teams voluntarily withdraw from the tournament, and the only one that could reasonably be asked to do so was Galena.

Galena supporters are right when they say ending the team's season penalizes the kids who did nothing wrong. And perhaps some parents will create a squabble by suing the school, adding another ugly chapter to this mess.

But we certainly hope that isn't the case, because kids also need to learn that sometimes bad choices affect other people. They need to learn we're all connected to one another, whether we like it or not.

Sometimes adults need to be reminded of that too.

Ask anyone around who doesn't have a vested interest in this case, and they'll tell you the decision was the best option from a buffet of bad choices.

They'll tell you the spirit of the law triumphed over the letter of the law, at least for a day.

They'll say this is the best way to squelch whispers that rich kids live by a different code than the rest of us.

But most importantly, they'll say Gregory should be commended for having the moral fortitude to do what's right.

From that point of view, Galena may end up being the biggest winner of all when the tournament is over. They may not be playing baseball, but they got a rare chance at a life lesson.

Jeremy Littau is the Nevada Appeal sports editor. Write to him at jjleditor@yahoo.com

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