Let’s be grateful for those sharing in kids’ success

Ken Jackson
The Sports Column

The discussion about last week’s deadly school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week continues, although it hasn’t been the healthiest of conversation, depending on who you rely on for the highlights.

Parkland is less than a three-hour drive down the Turnpike from here, and our community is connected to theirs in some small ways. Trust me, I’ll get to that in a few sentences, but let me get a a little something off my chest as an American, one who will have at least one child in our public school system for the next 14 years.

The loudest voices in the latest post-tragedy aftermath, as usual, talk in black-or-white absolute terms … Ban big guns. Arm everybody. Double or triple the police force. Spend millions of dollars that we haven’t raised yet.

But the answers needed to stop these shootings, or at least make them happen less often, will be found in the shades of grey that come in compromise.

But we have to be willing to compromise.

Every issue that goes into this complex problem — guns, police, mental health, permitting, background checks — has “Devil’s advocate” arguments to be made on both sides. And there’s plenty of people making them.

“There is no grey area with the 2nd Amendment. The 2nd protects all the other Amendments, and there’s a reason it comes right after Freedom of Speech and the 1st Amendment,” a close friend whose opinion I respect told me when I suggested we restrict civilian ownership of high-capacity guns like the AR-15 used in the Parkland shooting. More guns, and shooting back at a shooter, are part of the solution, he said, and I’m inclined to believe him.

I’m willing to discuss, hear and listen with and to anybody, in order to find solutions to make students and teachers — kids and families — safe. But we have to do all three instead of shouting each other down with a, “Believe what I do or shut the up,” mentality.

Come on, America. If we can get behind an Olympic women’s hockey team to beat imperialist Canada to win a gold medal, we can think of ways to keep our people out of hospitals, let alone the penalty box.

Now, here’s the local connections to Douglas High I promised.

On the day of the shooting, Feb. 14 (Valentine’s Day. Really? C’mon man!), Celebration High’s boys soccer team was scheduled to play a regional playoff game against Delray Beach Atlantic, which is within a half-hour of Parkland Douglas.

Here’s where I got chills that day. Their team left for Celebration shortly after noon, and were nearly all the way here when the 2:30 p.m. shooting took place. I was told that, had they left later in the afternoon, their staff would have likely been called to turn the bus around and come home.

And there’s more: Atlantic played its soccer district tournament at Douglas High School.

The Stoneman Douglas Eagles’ girls basketball team was also scheduled to play a regional playoff game the following night, but with school canceled the rest of that week, and one of its players fighting for her life as one of the gunshot victims, the game was postponed, leading to more questions.

The coach of one of our county teams, which did play a playoff game Thursday, said they had players who couldn’t get the shooting out of their heads.

“I can’t imagine playing after that happening. How can you think about competing, winning and losing, in that wake?” the coach said. “If I was the team they’re playing, I take the court, then walk off the court, and tell their coach, ‘It’s your victory.’ This is a game. Those were lives.”

Stoneman Douglas ended up forfeiting themselves, and rallying around their injured player. South Florida media reported that Cypress Bay, the forfeit beneficiary, would “Play with the Douglas light in our hearts,” although it lost in Tuesday’s regional semifinals.

Among the adults who lost their lives at Douglas were assistant football coach Aaron Feis and Athletic Director Chris Hixon. Having reported on the August shootings of Kissimmee Police officers Sam Howard and Matthew Baxter (still our heroes), I can’t imagine following that up with having to sum up the life of a coach or an AD who I’d probably know. These are people who sacrifice hours and days spent with their own families so they can help in the physical and personal growth of yours, mine, ours. Their work is too important to be potentially trivialized by a gunman.

The number of coaches in this county is too long for me to write up, but I’d like to take these last lines to offer thanks (and encouragement, if they knew Coach Hixon) to our athletic directors, who often arrive at and leave their schools in the dark.

If you can, please thank Jim Bird (Osceola), Eric Godfrey (St. Cloud), Travis James (Gateway), Rob Weilert (Poinciana), John Wallauer (Harmony), Rick Tribit (Celebration), Corey Edwards (Liberty), Kevin Mays (Tohopekaliga), Jim Estrella (Heritage Christian), Rob Gorski (City of Life) and those who assist them.