Dear adults: Stop attacking high school athletes on Twitter

Photo: Denny Simmons/Courier & Press

When did this become acceptable?

That’s the thought I kept having on Sunday night. It had nothing to do with anything about the NCAA Tournament, although seeing Duke win again was a bummer. I was reading Twitter.

A bit of background. Barr-Reeve High School (Montgomery, Ind.)’s basketball team lost to Blackhawk Christian (Fort Wayne, Ind.) in the Class A state championship at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday. The Vikings were a fun group to watch this season, but Fort Wayne was simply better in the final.

The star was 6-foot-10 sophomore Caleb Furst, a future Division-I athlete with scholarship offers from several Big Ten schools. With his size and athleticism, he got the best of Barr-Reeve and its big man, Keegan O’Neill. In the first half, he had five blocks and each came against O’Neill.

The issue was something that came up on social media and seems to happen too often. A grown adult, whose identity I have chosen not to provide because he doesn’t deserve the attention, trashed a high school kid during the game:

“Keegan O’Neill is Charmin Extra Soft! Playing Fake Tough cause [sic] he’s gotten his (expletive) swatted 6 times today.”

I apologize for the language, but that’s verbatim what was said. The question I keep going back to is: Why? On the surface, the tweet isn’t that abrasive and didn’t tag O’Neill. But it falls in line with a bigger problem.

Why do grown adults find it OK to call out a high school kid like this?

It’s true the state championship was not O’Neill’s best performance. He said so following the game, first complimenting Furst’s athletic prowess and later stating, “He played smarter than me down low.” Still, I’d argue that Barr-Reeve doesn’t make it to Indy without O’Neill.

But that isn’t the point. The issue is people who feel the need or want to belittle high school athletes because they don’t play a game as good (or as “tough”) as they think the kid should. And it keeps happening again and again.

I recall in November when someone labeled an entire program, which includes the players, as a “complete dumpster fire.” Last summer, another person responded to a story I wrote by saying the kid wasn’t good enough to play D-I basketball and even tagged the player in his response, too.

Want a more recent example? How about the fans who replied to La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.) senior Keion Brooks Jr. two weeks ago when he chose to attend the University of Kentucky. Most responses were either UK fans excited about the 5-star recruit choosing to play in Lexington or people wishing him good luck. No harm there.

The real kicker were the folks who wished Brooks would get hurt (or worse) because he didn’t choose their favorite school. Those were the minority but it was more than you would hope.

Guess what? These kids are 15 to 18 years old. Most will not play past high school. They play because they love the sport or their school or teammates. Just look at the Barr-Reeve seniors.

After the state championship, Isaac Wagler explained how honored he was to wear the Barr-Reeve jersey. He called it “special” and “amazing.”

Or think about Gabe Gladish, the Vikings’ leading scorer. When asked about playing his final game for Barr-Reeve, he offered this response: “I would definitely love to come back and help the school and the basketball team and the program. There’s a lot of work to be done with these little guys to get them ready for the level they need to be at this stage. I would love to be a part of that and help the program expand.”

That is what high school athletics should be about. Love for the game. Kids aren’t being paid to play or on scholarship. Yet, once again, grown adults feel the need to interject a garbage opinion and cross the line simply because they can.

Yes, you are allowed to have an opinion. But there is a time and place for it.

With O’Neill, you can’t argue the notion the person did it behind an anonymous account. His face and name is there for the world to see. I reached out to ask his reasoning but never got a response following a request to speak over the phone.

Speaking of O’Neill, he handled it like a pro. I know he saw the tweet, but he didn’t respond. The person didn’t deserve his time. His coach did only to defend his player and took the high road. I know his father responded but showed more restraint than I would have.

For the future, just don’t tweet at or about kids like this. It’s that simple. You don’t look as cool as you think.

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