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I had the privilege of joining the Youth 1st non-profit organization out of Owatonna this summer as a presenter. This group was founded in 2010 to connect conduct, character, and community to youth activities. I started to encounter this idea while umpiring in tournaments in Owatonna, where I was asked to mark if a team (including players, coaches, and fans) deserved recognition for showing good sportsmanship. I took this job very seriously since it makes for a great sports experience if everyone is doing that.

Mark Arges of Owatonna has been my contact for umpiring in Owatonna and also is the head of Youth 1st. We’ve gotten along well over the years and have a mutual respect for each other as umpires and lovers of the game of baseball. When he asked me to help with award presentations, I jumped at the chance. It’s great to be able to recognize outstanding behavior in our youth and work to increase awareness of the ideas of good sportsmanship.

I was able to travel to such vistas as Truman, Waterville, Blue Earth, Mantorville, Sleepy Eye, Essig, and New Ulm and talk to boys and girls of all ages who did such a fine job at tournaments that many of them had 100% ratings from umpires. These kids all got certificates, autographed pictures of some of the Minnesota Twins (names like Buxton, Sano, and Mauer were included), a team plaque, and free tickets to a Twins game at the beginning of September. At that game, they got the chance to walk around the outfield at Target Field and be recognized in a pre-game ceremony. What a thrill for those kids!

As part of my preparation to make these presentations, I read the book Above the Line, by Urban Meyer, head football coach at Ohio State University. I’ve never been a huge Meyer fan, but he does know how to win at that level. The book itself was a lot of back-patting by Meyer, but he had some crucial elements in there that jumped out at me, items I plan to use in my classroom and my everyday life.

The title said it all: Above the Line. Meyer demands that his players conform to above the line behavior. The choices these young men make need to be considered good choices and actions that will not reflect poorly on that player, his family, his teammates and school. With all the negative publicity about college athletes lately, this seems to be pretty standard as far as expectations.

However, Meyer goes beyond that. What happens when some players, inevitably unfortunately, do things that are below the line? Nobody’s perfect, and kids ages 18-22 tend to make plenty of mistakes as they learn and grow. Meyer has a rule to help steer kids out of trouble: don’t BCD.

If behavior is below the line, the athlete must avoid BCDing: blaming, complaining, and defending yourself. If you made the mistake, don’t try to blame other people. Don’t complain about the consequences or the rule you broke. Don’t start by defending yourself and trying to find a rationale for why you broke the rule.

These sound pretty simple, but when you think about it, many of us, including me, tend to lean in these directions. Nobody likes to get in trouble, and even if we know we were at least partly at fault, plenty of people try to deflect the blame by using at least one of these strategies.

So I put together a bulletin board in my classroom. It reads, “It’s hard to earn an A if you B(lame), C(omplain), D(efend).” With our continuing focus on Panther Pride and the behavior of our students and staff, this seemed like a good message. Let’s own up to the mistakes we make. And we all make them! We might find that life is easier if we just say, “Yes, I did that. It was wrong and here’s how I’ll work to correct it.”

I’m going to make a strong effort to use this vocabulary as part of discipline in my room. If a student misbehaves and I have to correct that behavior, I’ll be watching for BCDing and try to redirect him or her to acknowledge a mistake so we can have a discussion on how to change that and keep it from happening again. On the other hand, if I make a mistake or lose my temper unnecessarily, I’ll need to own up to that too.

I wonder if some of the world’s problems might go away if more people followed Urban Meyer’s advice. Just look at our politicians. How much BCDing goes on every year in our state and federal legislatures as well as out of the governor’s and President’s offices? Wouldn’t it be nice to hear, “You know what? I was wrong; you have a much better idea that will help more people”? Some positive progress might actually occur in our country!

I was so fortunate to join the Youth 1st family and look forward to working with them in the future. It’s a win-win when I can help encourage and steer our youth toward great attitudes and behaviors while also trying to improve myself. Let’s all endeavor to stay above the line!

Word of the Week: This week’s word is solecsize, which means to make an error in language or etiquette, as in, “When he solecsized by failing to hold the door open for his date, he quickly recognized his error and apologized.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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