Ludlow, Massachusetts takes pride in its soccer history. Home of the Western Mass Professional Soccer Club, the team plays in Lusitano Stadium, the only soccer specific stadium in New England. Home games draw up to 3000 spectators. Fans line the fence along the edge of the field to be closer to the action. A favorite concession is the Portuguese pork and grilled onion sandwich.
Soccer passion spills over to high school soccer and that is where this story starts. The 17- time state champion Ludlow Lions boys soccer team found out this past week that they will forfeit eleven of twelve games because a player on the team was academically ineligible. The athletic director said that the system in place to make sure that an ineligible player does not play “didn’t work” and the violation was reported to the MIAA as soon as it was discovered. This means that in all likelihood the Lions will not make the post-season.
In this soccer crazy town the wolves are circling; parents are demanding the resignation of the athletic director. In the words of one parent, he is searching for accountability. “I just would like for someone to step up and take ownership,” he said. “We’ll put it behind us when someone takes ownership.” And evidently the person who is supposed to take ‘ownership’ is the AD.
It is true that the AD is charged with being on top of just these sorts of things. He admits he failed but that isn’t enough to satisfy angry parents. They want his resignation. They want a man to lose his livelihood because their children will not have a chance to play before college scouts come tournament time.
Let me tell you something, parents. If your child is good enough to play college soccer he will play. Missing the western Mass high school tournament will not be the deciding factor. Get over it. Believe me, I have seen firsthand the value of being a part of a team and the camaraderie that exists among teammates, but unless your child is good enough to play D1 soccer, he will not be getting an athletic scholarship. Far better to encourage your child to excel in the classroom and earn an academic scholarship.
I have a daughter who played college soccer for one of the consistently best D3 soccer teams in the country. She was able to play for this team because she was a good soccer player who received academic scholarships. Her four-year college experience was a wonderful time of growth on the pitch, but more importantly, she grew academically and personally. Some of her college teammates will no doubt be lifelong friends and that grew out of the cohesiveness they had as a team. They were accountable to each other.
And that leads me back to the Ludlow situation. I have not read one article that even hints that the student-athlete who was ineligible bears any responsibility for the current mess. His teammates say they stand by him, but does this individual realize that he bears some responsibility for what has happened? Surely he knew, or should have known, that his grades were not what they needed to be. At any time did he consider going to his coach to say he wasn’t sure his grades were high enough? Did he feel any accountability to his teammates?
It is certainly easier to join the crowd and point the finger at the AD. “Crucify him!” But, wouldn’t it be nice if an adult who truly cares about character and integrity talks to this student and helps him to learn some bigger lessons about personal responsibility? Wouldn’t that be a fitting role for the parent who wants someone to take ‘ownership’?
This is a tough life lesson to learn so early in life, and I feel for this young man. He is carrying a heavy burden. But to learn at this age the strength and character it takes to admit a mistake would stand him in good stead his entire life.