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Common Sense Biggest Threat to MIAA, World of Zero-Tolerance

The Beverly High School lacrosse team could have fired up victory cigars after beating Marblehead 12-7 for the Div. 2 North championship Saturday.

But then they'd probably have no one left to play in Tuesday's state semifinal game against Hingham.

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Beverly had two players suspended for Saturday's game after a photo appeared in the Beverly Citizen showing the young men smoking cigars following their high school graduation. They appeared along with two other classmates in the photo. The two suspended players are over 18, but violated MIAA and school policies prohibiting use of tobacco, alcohol or non-prescribed drugs.

Someone ratted them out after the photo appeared. Here's a hunch, that person probably was not too happy with the result of Saturday's match and Beverly's hard-fought victory.

The MIAA has taken a deserved beating for the way it handled the scheduling of the Methuen-Chelmsford district semifinal baseball game. That game was played on Saturday morning despite the fact that 11 players had to miss the start because of scheduled SAT exams. Chelmsford won that game 7-5 after both schools threatened to boycott a day earlier. The players for each team displayed the jerseys of the missing players beforehand as a sign of protest.

Andover beat Chelmsford 6-3 in the Div. 1 North Final Sunday. Congratulations to all the players involved.

The lacrosse players in Beverly and those baseball players in Chelmsford and Methuen probably turn nauseous whenever they take a look at the final sentence of the MIAA's mission statement:

The MIAA will promote interschool activities that provide lifelong and life-quality learning experiences to students while enhancing their achievement of educational goals.

The kids involved here learned a very important lesson in all of this.

Organizations like the MIAA exist to serve one primary reason: Their own survival.

Preserving the bureaucracy is always Job 1 in any two, three, four, or five-letter organization. That holds true whether they serve the public sector, the private sector, or the world of pro, college and high school athletics.

They all have laudable goals.

The MIAA exists to "provide leadership and support" when it comes to high school athletics in Massachusetts.

The NCAA is "dedicated to safeguarding the well-being of student-athletes and equipping them with the skills to succeed on the playing field, in the classroom and throughout life."

You can go through the list of local, county, state and federal organizations and agencies in your area. Each began with an noble purpose. But you can easily find issues within each where the good of the agency and its intricate rules destroy common sense in every encounter.

Some infractions are far more nefarious than others. For examples, just Google: "Phoenix V.A. waiting list"; "Massachusetts Department of Children and Families [DCF] Justina Pelletier"; or open any letter from the IRS.

Again, these groups and so many others primarily known by their initials have the best of intentions: providing health care to veterans, making sure children aren't abused or collecting necessary revenue to run the federal government.

Ahh, intentions.

But in any interaction with any alphabet-soup group, from the MIAA to the IRS, the rules are paramount. Reason, expediency, fairness, or logic play a minuscule role in the process.

Once in a while, someone's basic human rights are so grossly violated by one of these agencies that the courts are able to step in and provide relief. But in nearly every interaction, the "rules" are the default position, no matter who or what is at fault or the circumstances at hand.

The Bill of Rights contains the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution. Those amendments contain principles such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the right to bear arms which have been modified or interpreted by the courts for centuries.

But there is nothing that make an organization the MIAA reschedule a baseball game once it has decided on a time and date, except for weather. In the case of Methuen and Chelmsford, both teams appeared to want the same thing and were willing to change the time so that the players who wanted to take the SAT could do both.

Had the MIAA allowed these two schools to work it out on their own it would have set a dangerous precedent, that being the elimination of the MIAA from the decision-making process. Bureaucracies and regulatory organizations can never allow their rules to be interpreted by anyone except themselves.

Otherwise, they may expose their own basic flaw. Uselessness.

Of course, the schools involved here bear some of the blame for this because they allow themselves to be treated by the MIAA in this manner. The MIAA supposedly works for its member schools, but that is only in theory. Had the schools simply gotten together and moved the game to a later time, the MIAA would have been forced to make a difficult decision in terms of dealing with the winner and Sunday's district final. But the schools caved, throwing those 11 kids under the team bus in terms of forcing them to decide if they wanted to take the SAT and leave their teammates in the lurch, or skip the last chance to take the SAT as juniors.

"Do the right thing, kids."

For those would-be Red Auerbachs in Beverly, where the cigar-smoking is a graduation tradition of sorts, the situation was no less baffling.

The athletes presumably signed the MIAA's Code of Conduct in which they agree "Alcoholic beverages, tobacco products and other drugs (unless prescribed by a physician) will not be tolerated."

The MIAA's policy spells out, in detail, how schools should deal with tobacco use.

RULE 62.1: From the earliest fall practice date, to the conclusion of the academic year or final athletic event (whichever is latest), a student shall not, regardless of the quantity, use, consume, possess, buy/sell, or give away any beverage containing alcohol; any tobacco product (including e-cigarettes); marijuana; steroids; or any controlled substance.
FIRST VIOLATION MINIMUM PENALTIES*:
When the Principal confirms, following an opportunity for the student to be heard, that a violation
occurred, the student shall lose eligibility for the next consecutive interscholastic contests totaling 25% of all interscholastic contests in that sport. For the student, penalties will be determined by the current or next season of participation.

So when Jimmy is carrying in the groceries and the bag includes dad's 12-pack of Bud Lights and mom's carton of Newports, he's violated Rule 62.1 by possessing alcohol and tobacco. Same with 18-year-old Tammy Lynn when she plays volleyball during the week and serves dinner and drinks at the local "99" on the weekends. She is both possessing and giving away alcohol.

How is that different than what these two boys in Beverly did? The rule says "use, consume, possess, buy/sell, or give away," not just "use." Imagine the impending foolishness if this literal interpretation was implemented by every school in the Commonwealth. Or if an anal-retentive type saw Tammy Lynn carrying a bucket of Buds to a table and didn't want her spiking the ball in her daughter's face. Now you see the flaw in zero-tolerance governance.

No judge. No jury. Just executioner.

The Speed Limit on the Mass Pike west of 128 is 65 MPH. Try surviving for two miles by going 65 in the left-hand lane on the Pike once you get past 128. Not going to happen. No one gets a ticket for going 66 on the Pike near Lee unless they hit the brakes while they were going 86.

The MIAA has denied, at least to CBS Boston, that they suspended the two Beverly players involved. The Boston Herald reported the group assisted in helping the school make the decision. The father of one of the boys believes otherwise.

Whether this was technically enforced by the school or the MIAA is not relevant here. If you believe "rules are rules" and must be followed to the exact letter no matter circumstance or situation, then you've already lost on multiple fronts.

History has been replete with rule-breakers who have effected positive change [without resorting to violence.] This isn't Gandhi preaching freedom for a 600 million people in India. But blind adherence to rules and policies, often set by people who aren't elected or rarely held accountable, is far more dangerous than firing up a King Edward Imperial to celebrate you high school graduation.

Common sense, of course, tells us that 18-year-olds are lawfully able to use tobacco in Massachusetts, vote, sign legally-binding rental contracts, get married, raise their own children and/or join the military. Any well-meaning rule prohibiting tobacco use among high school athletes fails to pass the common-sense smell test when it was used to prohibit the two kids from Beverly from playing.

The world of zero-tolerance governance and monolithic bureaucracies serve to protect the rules, and the power of those who make and enforce those rules, long before it serves anything else. School administrators might have set the terrifying "zero-tolerance" precedent of actually making a courageous decision using fairness, common season and reason.

To the young men affected here in Beverly, Methuen and Chelmsford, that was your real lesson in this episode.

As you progress in life, you will encounter more and more organizations like the MIAA, and more bureaucrats like those who deemed that lighting up a celebratory cigar in public at high school graduation equates to shooting up heroin in the school parking lot. You will encounter them in college, you will encounter them when you try to remodel your house, apply for a loan, register your car, pay your taxes, or play sports in college. They will throw thousands of rules and regulations your way. You will be surprised at how well you adapt and how much time and treasure is devoted to making sure forms are properly filled out and regulations are followed in their correct sequence. Some of this is necessary for reasonable order.

Much of it, however, is superfluous once real people are allowed to use their own minds and come up with solutions. And that's probably the worst thing that could happen for organizations like the MIAA.

The OBF Column is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Hit him up on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or at his
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. Thanks always for reading and pass the clicker.