Manslaughter verdict against Junta casts shadow on all youth sports

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 13, 2002

Sports Editor

My grandfather worked the railroads his entire life, yet work was not the main reason he was put on this earth.

He created a family with my grandmother. Eight children in total. Five boys and three girls. One of the girls just happened to be my mother.

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Early on in my parents’ marriage, my grandfather told my father the secret of raising a good family.

"Keep them fed. Send them to school and church. Discipline them," he said. "That’s all you can do. When they’re grown, it’s up to them."

Not much of a secret really. Just good old fashioned common sense.

Sports was never too far from the family. There were backyard basketball and football games on Sunday afternoon. Everyone’s mother and wife would stand on the porch and warn their respective child or husband "not to get too hot."

What I learned then, was that sports was meant to be fun. There was nothing competitive about any of it. Sure, your team wanted to win a game, but if you didn’t, no one was there to berate you for your performance. It was truly a child’s playground.

Today, what is truly saddening is the case of Thomas Junta, who was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter on Friday for beating another man to death at their sons’ hockey practice.

Is this what youth sports has come to in the new millennium? I certainly cannot imagine anything like this happening in Troy, or Greenville, or Dothan, or any part of Alabama for that matter. But I’m sure the people in Reading, Mass., thought the same thing prior to Junta’s fatal fight with Michael Costin.

Children need a parent’s protection, but one has to recognize that when your child steps in that rink, or on the diamond, or on the football field, it’s truly their first steps taken toward adulthood. Children are smarter then we give them credit for. You put 22 kids out in pasture with a football and I promise that any problem which arises will be dealt with in a quick and just manner. For a child, it’s all about getting on with the game. Sometimes, so wrapped up in the way the game is being officiated, we forget that.

At times like these, it sounds like we could all use some good old fashioned common sense.

My grandfather and grandmother are no longer with us. In fact, my father’s parents have passed on as well, allowing me to come to the realization of my own mortality. I’m going to die. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually. Everyone I know will pass from this earth as quickly as the whispered breath of a newborn baby.

In the end, all we’re left with is memories.

But what memories they are.

Playing basketball with your relatives on a patch of black dirt in the backyard. Walking to the store after the game and paying 40 cents for an orange soda. The way my grandparents hugged you with the kind of unselfish love only felt within the circle of a family.

The thrill of a little boy or girl finding an Easter egg tucked inside the rim of a tire. The chicken and dumplings, fried chicken and sweet tea. At the dinner table, with the family gathered around and every head bowed, the way my grandfather’s voice somehow got lower when he said the prayer.

The family of Michael Costin have memories of their own. Happy memories, for the most part, but now they also have to deal with the brutal realization of a life cut too short.

I once told a friend of mine that we live our lives in infinite sadness. It always seems to lurk just out of sight, like a disease, waiting for its chance to take hold. Along with sadness comes the pain.

But the pain makes the good times taste all that much sweeter.