Watching the team running and gunning in true Ohio Valley basketball style was fun beyond words. The team was made up of boys not yet old enough to drive, but still mature enough to listen to their coaches and really learn the game of round ball. They came from six different schools, with many different backgrounds.
Their common thread was their love of playing basketball and having a good time. Most of them met while learning the game at Chamber's YMCA when they were barely tall enough to dribble the ball. As their parents, we huddled in the corners of the Y gym on those early Saturday mornings to watch our kids develop into solid basketball players.
By the time they formed that pre-high school AAU team, these kids were pretty darn good at their game. What set them apart from others was their ability to play team ball - with few if any complaints along the way. I sometimes marveled at how five players would run from one end of the court to the other, passing the ball as they went. Sometimes the ball never touched the floor before it swished through the net. It was magic.
The team was coached by two of the boys' dads. They gave much of their free time to the kids, their practices and games. For the parents, there was real peace of mind because we knew the coaches and trusted them with our kids. The coaches and parents spent a lot of time together and lifelong friendships were formed. Even today as these young men are beyond college age, they remain good friends.
After hearing all of the horrible news coming out of Penn State's football program this week, I wondered how any parent could help but think that this could have happened to their child. The betrayal of a child and parents' trust was bad enough. The loss of innocence and pain put upon the victims of a coach's sexual abuse are unforgivable.
The stench of these crimes will carry over for many, into other sporting arenas involving children. Sadly the very places and activities aimed at building character and forming bonds of friendship and trust are targeted by child predators.
In the case of the Penn State abuse case, the boys preyed upon by the accused abuser - an assistant coach - were considered at-risk kids.
I never bought into the saying that it "takes a village to raise a child" until now. It's obvious that there are people we cannot trust with our kids. And as parents it's our responsibility to monitor what they are doing and with whom.
There's a big difference between being a "helicopter parent" who hovers over a child in excess and being a parent involved in your child's life. We only get one shot at raising our kids. We will make mistakes along the way, but keeping our kids safe has to be at the top of the list. They're counting on us.
Heather Ziegler can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.