Above my column on today's opinion page, you'll find an editorial entitled "Media goes too far in pursuing underage drinking." The piece was written by the editorial board of The Wildcatter, the Calallen High School student newspaper. The students wrote in response to an article that appeared in the Oct. 21 issue of the Nueces County Record Star about the arrest of Tanner Sparks, the quarterback for Calallen High School, on the charge of Public Intoxication. It is also in response to an Oct. 19 local television news broadcast that showed photographs of what was purported to be Calallen High School students drinking alcohol.
Let me first go on record as saying I disagree with the television station's decision to air Facebook photos of students who appeared to be drinking alcohol. No students were charged and the incident appeared to have taken place off school property. The fact that some students in high school drink alcohol is hardly news.
However, I stand by our decision to publish the article about Sparks' arrest. Sparks, 18, was arrested by the Corpus Christi Police Department and was charged with a Class C Misdemeanor. As a high-profile student and the quarterback of the high school football team, his arrest is of interest to the community.
In the weeks since our story ran, I have received a wide range of responses, from very positive to very negative, about the article. Some have told me we were just seeking a headline that would sell newspapers. Others have told me they respected our decision to write about a difficult topic.
I encouraged the editorial board of The Wildcatter to write a guest column because I felt students at the school would have an interesting perspective on the recent reports. I'm glad they agreed to write on the issue, and I respect their opinion that the media (including the NCRS) was out of line in its reporting. It is always my goal to have a wide-range of opinions reflected on this page, as long as they are written in a polite, well-reasoned way. While I don't agree with the board's ultimate assessment, I very much respect the argument they presented.
I won't respond specifically to what the editorial board wrote, but I would like to address two arguments I have repeatedly heard from those who criticize our decision to publish the story.
The first criticism is that "the only stories we write about Calallen are negative." The second is that we "only printed this negative story because the player was from Calallen."
Both of those claims are demonstrably false.
As for the first claim, the Advanced Search function on RecordStar.com returns 405 hits for articles with the word "Calallen" in them published from Oct. 1, 2008 to Nov. 8, 2010. The first page of stories includes headlines like "Calallen HS awarded $500,000 TEA grant," "Calallen ISD offering Dropout Recovery Program to area students," and "Calallen youth honored for visionary work." Most of the articles deal with students' accomplishments, board decisions and athletics.
I agree with those who say positive stories about the district are often overlooked. However, I don't agree that we're the ones overlooking them.
The second claim, that we only reported on Sparks' arrest because he attends Calallen, is even easier to disprove.
The Aug. 5 edition of the NCRS included a story entitled "TMISD looking into reported hazing incident at high school." The story dealt with an incident involving the Tuloso-Midway High School football team in which players allegedly showed "inappropriate behavior" toward freshman students in the locker room.
The Sept. 16 issue included a story about Michael Arredondo, a football player at Alice High School, who was arrested and charged with burglary of a habitation. Incidentally, I didn't receive any calls from residents in northwest Nueces County criticizing the decision to run those stories.
I believe that it is the responsibility of the local paper to let readers know what is happening in their community - period. In my time at this paper, I have pushed for more stories that highlight the accomplishments of the students in our area, but it would be irresponsible for us to gloss over incidents in which students show poor judgement, as Sparks allegedly did.
As the community newspaper, we hope for the best from our students and we take pride in bragging about their accomplishments. The Wildcatter editorial board says their school is more than "the indiscretions of a few." I couldn't agree more, and I hope Calallen students continue to provide opportunities for us to write positive stories about them in the future.