High School Student Athletes Lose When they Drink

My kid would never (fill in the blank).  Why, our school has great kids, who perform very well academically.  Many are involved in the community and do tremendous things.  There’s not a problem with alcohol abuse in our school.

We’ve probably all heard these sorts of statements from parents and school leaders.  The statistics say otherwise.  According to cdc.gov, seventy-percent of students have experimented with alcohol by the time they turn eighteen.  While teens don’t necessarily drink more often than adults, when they do drink they tend to drink more heavily.  On average, teens will have five or more drinks per sitting.  Such binge drinking leads to increased risk of hospitalization or even death.

Schools have been vigilant for several years in educating their students about the dangers of alcohol abuse.  I’m sure most of us have seen news stories covering school assemblies portraying a mock drunk driving accident scene.  For those moments, anyway, that cloud of teenage invincibility is whisked away.  Yes, it can happen to you.  It will continue to happen to you and the people you care about.  Underage drinking accounts for 4,300 deaths in the U.S. each year and a staggering 189,000 emergency room visits.  Teens, pay attention!  You are not invincible.  Even if you are a top athlete.  Please, do not add to these numbers.

Sports and alcohol have long been intertwined in our culture.  Attend any professional sporting event and advertising for alcohol is prominently displayed throughout the ballpark.  Go to a game, you’ve got to have a drink.  It’s part of the experience.  By the way, the most enjoyable major sporting event I’ve attended was the NCAA Basketball East Regional.  It was a dry event.  No one seemed to care they couldn’t get a beer inside the Carrier Dome.  I’m not saying adults shouldn’t be able to enjoy a drink from time to time.  I am concerned with the message we send to our impressionable students-athletes when alcohol is such a part of our sports landscape.

Long ago, tobacco advertising was featured in stadiums throughout our land, much in the way ads for beer companies are displayed today.  For most of NASCAR’s history their major series was named for Winston tobacco, which ended in 2003.  Not to age myself, but when I started high school, there was a designated place for students to smoke outside the cafeteria.  Many college campuses are now smoke free as well as sporting venues.

As a result, tobacco use among young people is down significantly.  While tobacco use results in significant health issues, it could be argued alcohol abuse has resulted in far more societal problems than tobacco has.  Many of the domestic violence assaults can be traced to alcohol abuse.  How many broken homes have resulted from a spouse’s alcoholism?  What about the collateral damage from these destroyed relationships?  Not to mention the burden on our healthcare system from diseases caused by excessive drinking.

In addressing our student-athletes at the high school level, drinking is wrong on so many levels.  First of all, it is a violation of the law.  Secondly, most schools require their athletes to sign a contract that they will abstain from tobacco, alcohol, and drugs.  By engaging in this type of behavior, you are dishonoring the covenant that you had agreed to.  The subsequent suspension that will follow lets down your coaches, teammates, and school.

Of course, there will always be those who will make poor decisions.  There are things we all can do to quell this epidemic.  First, we can no longer bury our heads in the sand thinking there isn’t a problem.  I think we can all agree based on the statistics I presented alcohol abuse is a major problem with our young people today.  We need to continue to keep this issue at the forefront.

Parents need to be just that, parents.  Do not resign yourself to the idea that kids are just going to drink anyways and there is nothing you can do.  I’ve even heard of parents who host parties in their own home, thinking it will be safer than if they go off property and then drink and drive.  Be vigilant.  Know where your kids are and who they are with.  You can be their buddy when they are grown and out of the house.  For now, you are the parent.  Be one.  This alone is far more important than how much time junior is getting on the court or even what grades they are bringing home.

For the many student-athletes who don’t drink:  don’t be sucked in.  You are not alone.  Create positive peer pressure with your teams.  Be a leader and talk about this issue with your teammates.  As a former coach, while I warned about substance abuse, if my players were also echoing this message it resonated far more.

Teens, you are not invincible.  As you celebrate the many rites of passage throughout your high school careers please do so without the use of alcohol.  Yes, you can still have a great time, an even better time, because you’ll actually be able to remember those occasions afterwards.  I, and many others who care about you, plead to you. Please stay safe and sober.

Be sure to like my Facebook page, the Press Box with Bob Beatham.  There you can access my weekly column and view other news and observations from the world of high school and youth sports.

Bob Beatham

About Bob Beatham

Bob, a lifelong Bangor resident, has just completed his 21st season as the Public Address Announcer at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor. Bob is also the public address voice for John Bapst Crusader football. He also currently serves as the scorekeeper for John Bapst basketball. Bob is an avid follower of Maine high school athletics, particularly football and basketball. The University of Maine at Farmington graduate is the service coordinator at Aging Excellence, which provides in-home care for seniors..