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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bad Calls: A Coach's Real Life 'Turning Point'

by Jenny Ramaley

One of Lyle Lovett’s lyrics says something like “…one bad move can turn your world upside down…” In a preemptive strike against those bad moves, our community’s incoming freshman attend a special program before they start high school. The administration tries to make the evening entertaining by bringing in a motivational speaker, a personable police officer who warns about getting into trouble with drugs and drinking, and our home-spun local magistrate who’ll dish out sentencing for the students who fail to heed the officer’s advice.  Why go to all this trouble? Because the administrators want to get through the heads of these kids that one bad decision, one single moment, can negatively impact the rest of their life.  Does the program work? Maybe.  While my girls rolled their eyes after the program, they’ve never been arrested for underage drinking.
                I suspect that it helps young people when the ‘make good choices’ message bombards them from multiple directions: schools, parents, TV & movies, and of course, books. Key, life-altering  moments are often used as ‘turning points’ or ‘1st crisis’ in the structure of a novel or screenplay.

                Here’s an example. The main character in Kevin Brooks’ Martyn Pig  http://www.amazon.com/Martyn-Pig-Kevin-Brooks/dp/1905294166/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_2
shoves his alcoholic dad during an argument and accidently kills him. Overwhelmed and shocked, the teenager doesn’t call the police. This one bad decision snowballs until it’s too late the call for help and spirals into a gut-clenching resolution filled with betrayal.
                Good novels subtly demonstrate without a whiff of preachiness how these ‘bad calls’ can turn out. As parents, teachers, librarians and writers, we hope that fictional stories will subtly reinforce the need to make ‘good calls’ when young people are faced with thorny situations --where they have a split second to make a decision.  
                Unfortunately, sometimes real life gives us horrific examples of people making really ‘bad calls.’ Unless you’ve been locked in a room finishing a young adult novel, you’ve probably heard about the sex abuse scandal at Penn State. My daughter is in her junior year at “Happy Valley”, or so it’s called, although it wasn’t a very happy place for the children who were abused, so we are horrified by what’s happening at her school.
                What’s especially dismaying about this case is how many people are supporting the now-former head coach, Joe Paterno.  JoePa, as he is known by students and alumni, is a powerful man at Penn State and in Center County. For him to cling to the legal argument that he did what he was required to do (ie, kick the news of a brutal rape upstairs to his bosses), but not to demand police involvement when he saw his superiors do nothing, is beyond comprehension.
                JoePa’s moment of decision making, his ‘one bad move’, will now tarnish his long, reknown career. Shame on him and all of the adults who failed these children.

Granted, this isn’t a typical topic for a children’s book blog, but I'm just trying to make some kind of sense out of all this. Can we use this awful situation to help teach our young adults to make good decisions, so as adults, they can make sound decisions when they are confronted with an injustice? If you’ve been following the sorry Penn State story, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has some insightful articles and editorials about the case:

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