Male athletes teach lesson in pack behavior

April 15, 2001|By Susan Reimer

I have apparently added yet another constituency to the many groups I have offended in this space: the parents of athletes.

Commenting on the sex, lies and videotape scandal at St. Paul's School for Boys, I suggested that parents and coaches must be ever vigilant because elite athletes often assume the rules don't apply to them.

Worse, I said, the courage of the team is always greater than the courage of any individual member, and these athletes can be inspired to do things as a group that none would do alone.

One reader suggested that if a lone team member robs a convenience store, his teammates should not share the jail cell with him, and I agree.

But if one football player moons a convertible filled with girls from the window of the team bus, it will quickly become a problem for the whole team.

Anyway, I must confess that I have had a revelation on the subject of jock culture and the pack nature of the male athlete, and I would like to share it here to demonstrate my remorse.

Last weekend, I requested that the Annapolis High School wrestling coaches and their wrestlers report at 8 o'clock on a Saturday morning to spend the entire day moving a mountain of mulch around the yard of a neighbor who needed their help.

I made no promises of payment, doughnuts or pizza. All I had to offer was a short night's sleep, a cold morning drizzle and the promise of a reward in heaven.

To my delight, but I must say not my surprise, the coaches and every wrestler who was not otherwise engaged in community service projects showed up -- and did everything I asked them to do without complaint.

They shoveled and hauled and raked and dumped with the ease of grown men playing a child's game. They dug out stumps as if they were pulling up buttercups. They dragged branches as if they were toy wagons. They lifted muck buckets filled with mulch as if they were teacups.

I think they liked playing with the chain saw best, however. If I hadn't been there to supervise, they might have taken out every tree and shrub in the surrounding community.

(However, the wrestlers were forbidden from weeding because they could not seem to grasp the difference between a perennial that you want to come back every year, and one that you don't.)

There were other adults on hand, friends and neighbors who also gave up a Saturday's ease to help out. But there is nothing like a bunch of strong, young backs to get a big job done quickly.

And it was a big job.

The yard on which we labored was so large that it makes the National Arboretum look like the back yard of a city rowhouse. I scheduled two shifts of four hours each. But this pack of male athletes got the job done in three hours, with plenty of time left for an impromptu wrestling clinic on the front lawn.

So, gentle readers, I was harsh in my judgment of the pack mentality of the high school athlete, and I repent of it. We can channel the testosterone surges of our finest young athletes to great advantage, accomplishing marvelous good works. With or without a video camera.

And this column is proof that they can make news- paper headlines without debasing another human being.

Though I must say that it should have been obvious to the wrestler who asked why I didn't call the debate team.

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