Powerlifters headline was unfair

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 11, 2008

When I read the headline “NHS athletes arrested,” and “Natchez High powerlifters charged with grand larceny,” my immediate thought was that the newly named State Champion Powerlifting team had been arrested for a crime that occurred in their weekend trip to state competition. The thought was disheartening as I had watched over the past few years as the team worked itself to the top, and I know Coach Joe Johnson to be a Christian man who tries to impart his values on his students. Thinking “how sad,” I read further only to discover the crime had been committed neither at the state competition nor at Natchez High School and furthermore that some of the six students are not members of the Natchez High School student body or the powerlifting team.

Having taught some of those accused of the crime, I am saddened by the waste such a crime generates. I feel deeply sorry for their parents, especially those parents who have been diligent supporters in the activities and education of their child — yes some of those accused have such parents.

I would be remiss if I did not take issue with the headline. This crime was in no way connected to Natchez High School or the powerlifting Team. Why were they even mentioned? Why was their coach called? Why was the superintendent called? Would you have written a headline that said “Members of St. Luke’s Christian Church” charged with grand larceny when members of that church were charged with embezzling money from the bank where they worked? Would you have contacted their minister to ask about the crime? Of course, you would not. Then why did you associate Natchez High School and the powerlifting team with the crime of these six students?

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In recent months, the Natchez-Adams School District has received much negative attention. Problems exist, no doubt. Some could be fixed by personnel, but others are a product of today’s society and not the result of the inadequacy of this school district. Doctors lose patients occasionally. Preachers did not save every soul that crosses the threshold of their churches. School districts have not reached and never will successfully reach every child.

Unlike the other schools in the area, the Natchez-Adams School District does not get to hand pick its students. Its doors are open to all regardless of their socioeconomic background, their ethnic background, their religious background, their criminal record, their mental and physical disabilities. This district does not have the right to deny service to a student and furthermore must comply with explicit state and federal guidelines in order to put a child of school. In spite of this, the Natchez-Adams School District has graduated students that work as doctors, lawyers, accountants, nurses, teachers, musicians, elected officials, pilots, college professors, chemists, engineers. Yes, the Natchez-Adams School District graduates individuals that grow old as self-supporting, hardworking, community- minded, successful individuals.

All of the thousand-plus students at Natchez High should not be judged by the action of six. However, headlines such as “NHS athletes arrested” allude to a connection between the crime and the school, and there is not a connection. Your paper should make a concerted effort to print something positive at least weekly about the students at NHS. They win contests, they achieve recognition by outside groups, they win scholarships, they show good citizenship, they do community service. Make no mistake; problems do exist. Those problems, however, stem from a small percentage of those 1,000-plus students.

Maybe in the near future, you could write an article about the success of the powerlifting team, including Danny Thompson’s 705 pound state squat record and Johnny Griffin’s 680-pound dead lift record and the academic success of student athletes like Callon Green and Jarrett Ealey.

Give the devil his due. If the accused are proven guilty, punish them to the full extent of the law. Do not, however, suggest that their decision to commit a criminal act was in any way influenced by their involvement or their association with Natchez High School, the powerlifting team or Coach Joe Johnson.

Irma Caldwell

teacher (39 years)