Second chances should come with stipulations

This is a good place to test that theory about failure not being the act of falling down, but rather staying down. Friday night lights is a concept as much about building character as promoting the purity of high school football.

A group of local prep players failed off the field a year ago. Their characters took a major hit. It's now up to them to prove worthy of a second chance. To not stay down.

It was in July when six juveniles -- who were juniors at Palo Verde at the time of their arrests -- each pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to commit arson.

They admitted to throwing incendiaries at Faith Lutheran Junior/Senior High and around a Summerlin park. They all were sentenced to 12 months probation and 200 hours community service with the opportunity to reduce the felony count to a gross misdemeanor.

They did a really stupid thing and were exceedingly fortunate innocent people weren't hurt and structures weren't destroyed.

Four of the six are back playing in the Sunset Region, but none for Palo Verde. J.D. Buonantony is the starting quarterback at Western, and wide receiver Ryan Patterson is his teammate for the Warriors, who opened their season at home Friday with a 20-7 win over Green Valley.

Rashan Lawrence is a running back/linebacker/punt returner/never-leave-the-field senior at Cimarron-Memorial, where he is joined by linebacker/wideout Travis Skochenko. The Spartans were off this week.

It's appropriate that all be awarded another opportunity to compete, to demonstrate foolish choices are a thing of their collective pasts.

Just not in any game against their former team.

It doesn't work that way but should. Students who dig themselves into holes of legal trouble eventually are placed in another school if not welcomed back to the one they last attended. It makes sense these players were relocated close enough where parents could supply reasonable transportation, leaving them to compete in the same region.

"It's not our policy to bury a kid once he has served the punishment," said district athletics director Ray Mathis, whose office does not decide where students are relocated. "You serve the consequence of your actions and then get a fresh start.

"Anyone can make a mistake, especially kids at this young age. We certainly want to give them every opportunity to succeed."

Everything he says is right, but this isn't about four kids wanting to transfer due to a lack of playing time. These all are players good enough to start at key positions whose immature actions easily could have cost them the privilege of playing high school sports.

Let them play against anyone but Palo Verde. It's not a step the district would take. It's just the proper one.

This might not be an issue with Western, which isn't scheduled to meet Palo Verde in the regular season. But there is an Oct. 25 game between Cimarron-Memorial and the Panthers, when Lawrence and Skochenko will line up against the former teammates they let down.

Their second chance should have come with a stipulation that they spend that evening on the sideline. I realize this is asking district officials to explore things outside the box and beyond any archaic rulebook, and that those extra five minutes of thinking can be awfully taxing.

"We don't prepare for just a few players," Palo Verde coach Darwin Rost said. "Beating our archrival will concern us a lot more than worrying about those kids.

"I want the best for everybody. I have no hard feelings. I was told all those kids weren't coming back to our school. I wasn't involved in the decision, so I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it."

Lawrence attended the Western game to support Buonantony and Patterson and couldn't have been more open and sincere about what happened. He wouldn't have had a problem if it had been ruled he couldn't play against Palo Verde. He would have accepted it like he did a judge's punishment.

"I would have understood," Lawrence said. "If I were the (Palo Verde players) that we let down, I wouldn't want to play against us. But I came to Cimarron hoping to show people who might have thought about me a certain way that I am different and can be a role model. I think that has happened.

"We all made a big mistake. We all consider being able to play again a second chance. I just hope on (Oct. 25) Palo Verde fans know that if I had my choice, I'd still be playing for them. I don't know what that night will be like."

Second chances often come with awkward moments. It's part of the deal. Part of rebuilding that character.

Ed Graney's column is published Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. He can be reached at 383-4618 or