Public needs more answers on near drowning of 3 West Valley students

This is an alarming report by KTVF in Fairbanks about the near drowning of three members of the West Valley High School football team.

The firing/resignation of the coach, announced Thursday, must be followed by a clear statement from the school district about this stupid and reckless behavior. The lawsuits will be expensive.

The two students interviewed are not identified by the TV station. Anonymous sources are never ideal, but it’s likely the students would have refused to speak if their names were used. Plus, they have probably been told to keep their mouths shut.

Deciding how to handle such cases is always a difficult question for a news organization. In the end, it comes down to the credibility of the reporters and editors and the level of public trust in the news organization. KTVF deserves credit for being diligent about this. The story that has been picked up by the Washington Post.

“The near disaster in Alaska is the latest in a string of questionable and potentially dangerous workout routines in recent years for high school athletics programs looking to find an edge — sometimes at the risk of player safety,” the Post said.

If half of what the students say is true, the district has a major problem on its hands. The story is a much stronger one because there are two distinct sources.

“They pulled one kid out and his arms were just stiff, he was just stiff. He wasn’t moving. I just started bawling my eyes out cause I genuinely thought he was dead. When they kept pulling more kids out, they pulled the last kid out I thought he was dead. Because he was purple and he wasn’t moving at all. Everyone there was pretty much bawling their eyes out and either mad or just sad that this was going on,” one of the young men said.

What they describe is not a “team building exercise.” It is a nightmare.

By now, the district knows if students who cannot swim were encouraged or forced to jump into the pool. By now, the district knows if the lifeguards were encouraged or told not to jump in and rescue students in trouble. By now, the district knows why lives were put at risk.

Healthy young men who know how to swim do not end up at the bottom of a pool.

The reflexive impulse of any institution is to avoid revealing bad news for as long as possible. A fortress mentality takes hold, everyone knows that people will be angry, the courts will be involved and the operating theory becomes “the less said the better.”

The lawyers are telling the district and the adults to say nothing except that an investigation is taking place. Whatever anyone says beyond that, perhaps including this news story, will become potential elements in the civil and/or criminal investigations.

There are legal arguments about confidentiality and protecting privacy, but there is also the matter of public trust and accountability. The sooner the full story is out, the better.

The district could at least make a clear statement at what safety steps and instructions have been given in response to this outrageous situation.

Dermot Cole2 Comments