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Posted: December 17, 2010 1:13 p.m.

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Teens: High risk, high rewards

In the latest episode of what the heck is going on with society, Mason Holland of DeSoto County High School in Florida managed to turn a high school basketball game into an episode of WWE Smackdown. If you don't know what I'm talking about, type his name in an Internet search and check out the disturbing video.

For those of you without access to a computer right now, what you haven't seen will shock you. After shoving a player from the other team and getting called for a technical foul, Holland took out his frustrations on the referee who made the call by shoving him. After the shove, Holland picked up referee Jim Hamm and executed a body slam on him that would have made Hulk Hogan jealous.

Hamm was uninjured.

Holland's outburst not only cost his team the game — the DeSoto County coach forfeited the game, but it got him suspended for 10 days,

The video went viral, with more than 125,000 views the first day. Each website that posted the video had an array of comments. The comments varied, but what didn't was how fast this turned into a race issue. Holland, who's black, slammed a white man. Immediately some people believed (not me) that Holland was from a single-mother household. Some comments even went so far as to infer that perhaps Hamm instigated the ordeal by slinging a racial slur toward Holland.

There's no way anyone can verify either claim simply by watching a crummy video. To assume as much is laughable. What's not is the act itself. This isn't about race. It's a troubling sign that our youth is teetering on the brink of social meltdown.

Now, you probably know what I'm about to say. Throw this kid in jail (he's 18) and stash the key in some cave in Afghanistan, right? Not so fast.

What society fails to realize is not everyone has the same outlook on life and how important sports are to keeping some kids out of trouble.

As many of you know, my wife teaches at one of the three high schools in the county. She spent her first five years teaching at Heritage where the mix of kids was more middle class to affluent than where she currently teaches. There, the expectations were that the children were going to college. But since coming to Newton County she has realized that some kids are worried about making it through the day, the week, or the year. Some kids don't know what or if they will eat when they get home. For anyone to sit there and tell them how important college is to them is of no use to them. It's just noise. As soon as she realized this, she became an even better teacher. She realizes for her to reach a student, she needs to understand them. She now gets satisfaction when she can help these types of kids where as more often than not, many teachers write them off then commiserate with other cynical teachers.

That said, we can't condone this type of behavior. We can't expect teachers and coaches to spend valuable time disciplining students who don't want to improve at the expense of so many who do.

It would be easy to use Holland as an example, but that's not the right answer. He needs to be severely punished. But then he needs an opportunity to find a way to make his life meaningful. That in itself tends to ease the anger.

This is a sad incident. How easy will it be for an obviously volatile young man to lose direction now that he doesn’t have the structure of something like basketball in his life? This is the same question I often ask myself when I get to know some of these student-athletes in our three high schools.

These kids need discipline. They need a firm hand. They also need to know they have hope. Even the smallest things make a difference. A smiley face on a paper they did well on. Get to know more about their culture if they aren't of your social economical background. Talk to them about Twilight, Harry Potter or Carmelo Anthony. Little things add up.

My wife tells me the greatest satisfaction she gets is when a senior (she teaches 10th graders) or a recent graduate who struggled with discipline or something else in her class comes back to see her and tells her how much he or she misses her class. So many times they tell her she was tough but they are thankful she was and they're a better person for it. They made it through high school in part because of her.

That's what makes her get through the furlough days. That's what makes her continue to enjoy her job despite losing her health insurance and yearly raises. That's what makes our world a better place.

Working with high-risk kids like Holland is challenging. It takes more work. But like everything in life, with high risk often comes high reward.

maybe more pending an investigation. Holland will never again play basketball at DeSoto High and could face felony assault charges.

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