[Continued from The Big Kid and Basketball Part XX … the Fleeting Moments]
“Tom, the marijuana today is not the same as the marijuana of ten or twenty years ago. It is far more lethal, does far more damage to children, and much of it is laced with other agents to do even more harm.”
Working in Boston for the National Institute for Children’s Health Quality (NICHQ) I was engaged in a wide variety of healthcare quality improvement initiatives to improve the health of children throughout the country.
And recently we at NICHQ were approached by a very engaging business leader who lost his son to suicide after his son’s long battle with addiction.
“Tom, today’s marijuana is a gateway drug to even more harmful drugs. Whatever you can do, you must do to stop a child from using.”
As a coach of a high school recreation basketball team I had learned the X’s and O’s of the game. I had leveraged my leadership and organizational skills. I had failed a lot and I also had some successes by working with Coach Sampras and Coach Norgaard, many parents, the league director, our amazing sponsors, our wonderful players and many others.
But this was different.
I had recently learned that one of my players had begun to smoke marijuana quite frequently and was now trying to entice other players on our team to do so too. And it was breaking my heart.
All my players are special to me and this boy especially so.
But what was I to do? Do I tell his mother, who is also very dear to me? Do I confront him? Is a child smoking marijuana not a big deal anymore in this day and age? Is it none of my business? Is it my responsibility?
With this now threatening to impact my entire team the last two questions were easier to answer.
That said, I struggled to be sure.
Back at NICHQ we were partnering with the business leader and in the process of engaging experts from around the country to develop a quality improvement model to address adolescent drug addiction.
And I was blessed to have developed a relationship with Christy, one of our addiction experts. She was the one sharing her thoughts with me.
“But Christy, this boy is not my child. I am just his coach.”
“Tom, the risk is too high, the danger is too great. You must act.”
But what if I make things worse?
Upon arriving back in Maine, I discussed this child and what I should do a great deal with my bride.
“The addiction experts we engaged are very clear. I must act. I am going to talk with Clay tonight at practice.”
“What are you going to say, Tom?”
“I don’t know yet. I am going to pray about it, think about what Christy and the other experts suggested, and when I am ready, sit Clay down.”
“I will be praying for you.”
“Thank you my love.”
As I drove to practice that evening Tommy was talking about our last game. A game in which we won for many reasons including the fact that he continued his boxing out and rebounding ways, Dean continued to ‘set records’ blocking shots, Abel was the floor general, and everyone as always contributed.
“Dad, I am going to drop 15 next game. Guaranteed.”
I truly loved Tommy’s confidence and swagger as he has continued to learn and improve his game, but tonight my mind was elsewhere.
Upon arriving at the Narragansett school …
“Tom, your coffee is all set in the teacher’s dining room. I have a cup on the countertop near the sink for you. And the cream is in the refrigerator as usual.”
“Thank you, Mike. And how are you this evening?”
Mike was the custodian at the Narragansett school where we practiced. And over the years we have become quite close.
“A few more hours here, then another five at my next job, and then after that home in front of the TV. Life can’t get better than that.”
“Wow,” I thought, “home by 3am. And yet always so happy.”
“Hope you will have a big steak waiting for you when you get home.”
“You know it! Now remember, you and your team can stay right up until 10pm if you would like. They are all good kids.”
“Yes. Yes they are,” I thought.
“Thank you, Mike. I will let you know when we are heading out.”
Tommy was already in his basketball sneakers and draining three pointers with the other boys.
I sought out Coach Sampras.
“Hey Coach, How are you tonight?”
“Ready to practice! OO-RAH!”
Got to love former military personnel.
“Perfect. Would you please lead the team in warm ups and our first few drills. I need to talk to Clay.”
“You got it, Coach.”
I could feel my stomach getting tight as I thought about what was to come. About how I have no training. How inadequate I felt for this task. How I could screw this up. But also that I must do my best to help this child.
As the team began to practice I began to call a number of players over one at a time so that it was not obvious I was singling Clay out.
“Walk with me.”
“Great game last Saturday. That last shot you blocked was a key to our win. Tonight I would like to see you focus on both the block but also the direction in which you direct the ball, much like a goalie in hockey. Make the save and direct the puck to a teammate to clear it. Make sense?”
And then …
“Walk with me.”
“Tonight during the scrimmage I want you to play Tommy man to man. I want to see you push him hard under the boards on both ends. I want to see you fight him for every ball. And I want you to show off your ‘rip it’ skills. Can you do that for me?”
“I will do my best. Tommy is great under the boards.”
“And so are you. Now let’s see you both get even better.”
“You got it, Coach.”
And then …
“Walk with me.”
We walked a bit further than the others as I directed Clay to the teacher’s dining room.
“Have a seat, Clay.”
“Clay, I wanted to talk to you.”
“I understand you have been smoking a lot of weed and enticing other players to do so too.”
“Listen to me, Clay. You mean a lot to me and my family. As does your family.”
“I know Coach.”
“Good. Because I am saying this because we love you. Using marijuana is a bad thing. The marijuana of today is not like it was years ago. It is far more dangerous and can do great harm. I don’t want to see you harmed, Clay. And I don’t want to see any of your teammates harmed either.”
I waited but Clay did not finish his thought.
“Clay, here is the deal, tonight after practice you tell your mother what is going on or I will.”
“But Coach. I will stop. You, your family, and the team mean more to me than weed. I will stop right now. I promise.”
“I hear you, Clay. And I hope that is true. But that is not enough. As I said, you tell your mom or I will … tonight.”
Clay and I went back and forth many more times with me doing my best to stress how much he means to us and how dangerous marijuana is to a young person. It wasn’t easy and every chance I got I prayed, “Please God, help me to say the right thing. Help me to not make things worse.” And most of all, “Please help Clay. Please keep him safe. Please give him the strength to stop using. Please give him strength to talk to his mom. And please give her strength.”
“Coach, I will tell my mom after practice tonight. I promise. I will.”
“And you will stop smoking and enticing others?”
“Yes, Coach. The people in my life mean far more to me than any drug.”
“I am proud of you, Clay. Let me know how your conversation goes.”
I wanted to ensure that the conversation both took place and that I was available afterwards just in case I could be helpful somehow.
“I will coach. I will.”
TO BE CONTINUED …