Comedian Steve Martin once joked about giving the death penalty for parking tickets.
That is, in effect, what South Carolina has done to the North Augusta High School boys' basketball team.
And it's no joke.
The Yellow Jackets have been barred from pre- and post-season play in 2008-09, and nine juniors on the team have been ruled ineligible for the entire season because they engaged in a rudimentary off-season workout with an assistant coach present.
It's possible the April 11 workout at Paul Knox Middle School violated South Carolina High School League rules. But the truth is, it was not a "practice," and the event was staged only to help North Augusta grad Bryan Narcisse attract the interest of a Clemson University recruiter and possibly a scholarship to play there. In fact, it was the recruiter's idea in the first place.
North Augusta High was fined $500, and that's perfectly fair. We can also see banning the team from pre-season play.
But post-season play is what these young men are working for with everything in them. And for nine of them to be banned from playing all year long -- well, that's just draconian, heartless and cruel.
It is, indeed, the death penalty, in school sports' vernacular.
We hope the South Carolina High School League will reconsider. This was not anyone's attempt to cheat or to gain an unfair advantage on other teams. It was a goodwill effort on the part of the players to give a friend a boost up to the next level.
The South Carolina High School League risks doing the opposite with these nine boys and their teammates: holding them back from achieving their goals and dreams. How counterproductive and irreparably damaging would that be?
These boys could never recover that year, and it could cripple some of their college careers and, by extension, the rest of their lives.
Do league officials really want to do that? Do they want that on their hands?
Fine the school. Double it, even. Suspend the assistant coach. Put shaving cream on the door handles at North Augusta. But for heaven's sake, leave those boys alone.
Al Pacino, playing a Vietnam veteran in the movie Scent of a Woman , is arguing against a similar unjust punishment against a student when he says, "I have seen boys like these, younger than these, their arms torn out, their legs ripped off. But there is nothing like the sight of an amputated spirit. There is no prosthetic for that."
There is no reason to amputate these boys' spirits.
South Carolina has to be better than that.