Where were the proverbial adults in the room when seven Saugus senior athletes were suspended from playing in postseason tournaments because they smoked victory cigars following their high school graduation last Friday?
Let’s repeat that sentence: They were suspended from potentially the final games of their high school athletic careers because they were smoking cigars. Does anyone for even a brief moment think any of these guys walked around Saugus or the town doing a W.C. Fields imitation? Does anyone think their cigar stunt extended beyond a post-graduation celebratory moment?
OK, rules are rules. All Saugus athletes sign a handbook policy stating they cannot use tobacco products at school functions. On top of that, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association has strict rules for students who violate its alcohol, drug or tobacco use policy.
Rules are rules and the Saugus athletes — most of them lacrosse team members — broke the rules. School Committeewoman Elizabeth Marchese, thankfully, overstated the gravity of the infraction when she said the students’ memories of graduation ” … will now be forever marred” by the smoking violation.
School Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi used that reliable catch-all phrase ” … it’s a teachable moment …” to sum up the fallout from the cigar incident.
Again, can all the responsible adults please step back from this tempest in a teapot and objectively and rationally analyze the situation?
Rules are written to define a precise procedure for warning and then punishing people who violate standards intended to preserve health, security and societal wellbeing. The Saugus tobacco ban; the town ordinance requiring tobacco buyers to be at least 21, and the MIAA rules are all outstanding in their intent. They seek to keep children, including high school seniors on the precipice of adulthood, from using substances that can harm or kill them.
That is a well-intentioned and noble goal. But what does it really have to do with seven excited guys mugging for a camera with a cigar? The Saugus Seven weren’t caught smoking behind the high school or in somebody’s car: They stood in a row and got photographed.
The old adage about if you bend a rule for one person, soon everyone is clamouring to be treated the same way only goes so far. Responsible adults — the people charged with discussing and drafting rules — can reserve the right to step in and say, “OK, does this situation really mirror the intent behind the rule we wrote?”
In the case of the cigar-wielding graduates, the answer is no.
If DeRuosi really wants a teachable moment to emerge from the cigar controversy and if the MIAA really wants student athletes to become anti-substance abuse ambassadors, then adults and students should assemble to talk about the rules and the example set by students who flout them.
Students shoulder the mantle of accomplishment when they graduate high school. They also shoulder the mantle of maturity and adults in their lives have a duty to show them how mature people analyze and reach a conclusion about a specific situation.