A Sad Situation: Zero-tolerance Is the Only Policy for Underage Drinking

The allegation that members of the Winthrop High hockey team were consuming alcoholic beverages with members of the coaching staff in the locker room at Larsen Rink last Friday evening after returning from their 2-1 loss in a state tournament game is upsetting (for lack of a better word) on many levels.

First and foremost, it is sad to contemplate that WHS head coach Dale Dunbar may have been involved in this incident. Dale for decades has been one of the most respected members of our community, both on and off the ice, ever since he himself was a star player for Winthrop High. His lifetime of dedication to Winthrop High athletes and their families truly has been exemplary, and so it is difficult to accept that he may have been involved with this alleged mistake in judgment.

We strongly would note that at this point, these are only allegations that will be investigated thoroughly by the Winthrop Police and the school administration. No one should rush to judgment about anything in connection with this matter until all of the facts are known.

However, this incident does bring the issue of teen drinking to the public eye and about that general topic, we would make the following observations:

We often have said, and we will say it again, that the single-most important event in the lives of all too many of our fellow human beings is the day they take their first drink. You can take all of the drugs in this world, legal and illegal, and their combined toll of human misery does not even come close to that wrought by alcohol.

This is especially true in young people, whose brains still are developing until they reach the age of 20. Science has shown that alcohol causes changes in the brain chemistry of adolescents that are irreversible. Moreover, persons who begin to drink at the age of 15 (let alone even younger) are five times more likely to become alcoholics than individuals who do not start to drink until they are 21.

Recent experience has shown the havoc that alcohol consumption can cause when those under 21 are allowed to drink. In 1973, Massachusetts and many other states lowered the legal drinking age from 21 to 18. That was at a time when the voting age also was lowered to 18 and when so many 18 year olds were being shipped off to fight in Vietnam. The popular thinking at the time was, “If a person is old enough to vote and serve his or her country, he or she should be able to drink.” Within less than a decade, the disastrous consequences of that change in social policy became apparent. Teen drinking became a huge problem, as teen drunk-driving deaths and other incidents of alcohol abuse skyrocketed. An 18 year old may be able to shoot a gun, but he or she cannot drink responsibly.

This incident also shines a light on the culture of sports and drinking. We exalt athletes in this nation to a level way beyond what they deserve. Moreover, we somehow think that our young athletes are both more mature and more deserving of a higher stature than those who are not athletes, when the reality is that they too, are just kids. Can you imagine  a high school chess club, for example, returning to school after a match and sitting around and drinking with their advisor? That image is absurd even to think about and we all would be outraged, yet the thought that a high school athletic team might have a few beers in a locker room after a long season is not so unfathomable — after all, isn’t that what the Red Sox were doing a few years ago? High school athletes are children, plain and simple, and perhaps even more than for their fellow students, we who are their adult caretakers — parents, teachers, coaches, and others — must ensure that they are in a safe environment, and that includes an alcohol-free one.

We trust that our school administrators and police will handle this matter in a professional and responsible manner.  In the meantime, we hope that this alleged incident will highlight for everyone that there must be a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol use by under-age youth.

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