Dismal episode offers some valuable lessons


Howard At Play

March 07, 2004|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

SEVERAL THINGS to think about, as winter sports seasons wind down and spring seasons near:

AFTERMATH OF THEFT: The guilty pleas in court last month by former longtime Columbia Bulldogs treasurer Harriett Williams and president Rick Valentine about their theft of money from the youth football club added up to a sad footnote for county amateur sports.

Their taking of money from the club - the total amount remains fuzzy - for different, personal motivations, however, has a couple of positive spins.

First, Williams and Valentine got caught, thanks to another citizen and club member with the courage to step up and persistently ask tough questions about money he had donated to the club. Valentine has repaid $5,382.50.

Second, the thefts that Williams and Valentine would admit to, and the consequences they're experiencing, should be a lesson to any adult who steps up to handle a volunteer-run organization's money. That is: Always have at least two people working together - Williams and Valentine didn't always, others in the club have said - in counting and banking of cash. Further, always require of your treasurer regular, thorough, clear-cut accountability at board meetings. Money coming in, minus money spent for legitimate reasons should yield a balance that is reasonable, and near break-even.

Why are you writing about them? Focus on the kids; they're the ones who are important. When we reported first, just over a year ago, about this sorry situation, that's what we were told, repeatedly, by several people familiar with what would evolve into an uncommon willingness to break the law and community trust by the two.

Sure, in the long run, the kids matter most. No argument. But youth organizations, be they in sports, theater, scouting or other activities, can't exist without volunteer adults who usually don't get much credit for their countless hours of - honest - work.

We had no choice but to focus for a few weeks on the misdeeds that would trace to Williams and Valentine, because that pair, in the guise of helping kids, instead helped themselves to more than they were entitled.

For what? Selfish, momentary financial relief, in retrospect. But more, too: Valentine faces 90 days of weekends in jail and has lost all his friends, he told the court. And Williams, who also admitted taking money from her employer, awaits sentencing. The reputations of others were tainted, as well.

And the kids? Other adult volunteers, with the Department of Recreation and Parks' help, salvaged the organization. We hope you appreciate that what they did resulted in kids competing again last fall, and nicely, too.

FITNESS FOR KIDS: Jackie French, the county school system's instructional facilitator for physical education and dance, provided some material that really is food for thought while we talked with her for our Feb. 15 article about a new program of using heart monitors in phys-ed classes.

Action for Healthy Kids, a year-old national group of educators and others interested in children, notes that "across the nation, physical education programs are on the decline."

The advocacy group noted that between 1991 and 1999, the latest data compiled, "the percentage of students who attended daily physical education classes declined from 42 percent to 29 percent." Also, it said, "the majority of high school students take physical education for only one year between ninth and 12th grades."

In Howard County, make that only one semester.

Yet, the group reported, recent studies show "providing more opportunity for increased physical activity (by reducing class time) leads to increased test scores." Further, "increased physical activity has positive effects on academic achievement, including reduced disruptive behavior. Academic achievement improves even when the physical education reduces the time for academics."

And the group added: "Aerobic conditioning may help to improve memory. Exercise may strengthen particular areas of the brain."

French also provided another study: A 2002 California Department of Education study tracking required physical education measurements, akin to the new heart monitor program being started here.

It revealed that "higher academic achievement associated with higher levels of fitness" in grades 5, 7, and 9." At all three grade levels, the California study showed, "students who meet minimum fitness levels in three or more areas show the greatest gains in academic achievement."

POLITICS: County Executive James N. Robey will conduct one of the rituals of spring Tuesday night, listening to public opinions on the county government's planned budgets for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

So now's the time, all you amateur sports organizations in Howard County, to do something you haven't done well, at all, in the past, which is to go lobby - make a showing - to support the Department of Recreation and Parks' quest for money to add lights to some ball fields at Western Regional Park and synthetic turf to three fields used mainly, nearly year-round, for soccer, football and lacrosse.

You can bet some will appear and swear to Robey that the sky will fall and peace will be destroyed if any lights or synthetic fields get built. But, it says here, doing so is in the community interest and, in the long term, a sound use of public money.

Have suggestions for what or who we should write about here? Have a different point of view? Let us know. Call the writer at 410-332-6525 or send e-mail to lowell.sunderland@ baltsun.com.

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