Originally created 05/16/04

Title tie yields more mature Menk



At roughly 6-foot-4 and still a high school junior, Peter Menk is a growing young man. He has grown a good measure since Friday night.

Menk is the standout goalie for Richmond Academy's state championship boys soccer team. In a testament to the life lessons taught by sports, he can be considered a standup young man as well.

After allowing the first live-action goal to get past him in a nearly perfect soccer season, Menk behaved badly after Friday night's game. He was not alone among teammates in pouting after an unsatisfying 1-1 tie with Grayson at ARC Stadium. He was, however, alone in acting rudely to reporters who tried to ask him about the game.

In a thoughtful and candid e-mail sent to the sports editor of The Augusta Chronicle on Saturday, Menk sincerely apologized for his behavior. He was not prompted by his parents to write the note or ask for the reporters' phone numbers so he could offer a personal apology. He did it on his own.

"I let my teammates down and I couldn't control that disappointment," Menk wrote. "However, there is no excuse for how rudely I acted."

As reporters, we sometimes get numb to being treated rudely. The worst part of sports journalism is dealing with defeat in all of its various shades. I have walked into many more losing locker rooms than winning ones in nearly 20 years of covering sports, and it never gets easy.

After Friday night's "devastating" deadlock in the Class AAA boys soccer state championship game, the Richmond Academy players were justifiably dejected. They wanted a perfect ending to a perfect season and they got just a tad less than perfect.

As a principle character in Richmond Academy's dramatic season, Menk's thoughts were naturally sought out after the game. While athletes should always speak up for their actions, they have the right to politely decline comment.

Menk believed he let his teammates down because a savable shot slipped through his hands. That happens all the time in sports. It's a natural and nobel thought to accept blame for a error. But he'll learn that teams win, lose or draw as a whole.

"One of the worst parts of the situation is that we are state champions," Menk wrote. "To sulk and whine about how we fell short is foolish and immature. It took me all of last night to understand that. We brought something special to the community no one had ever done, and all I could do was disrespect those who cared."

I debated with colleagues whether to mention Menk's behavior in Saturday's column. General journalism policy is that high school athletes don't warrant the same kind of critical assessment of their on-field actions or abilities as collegiate or pro athletes who receive compensation in some fashion for their skills.

But noncompetitive misbehavior at any level is unacceptable as even a 16-year-old should know. With recognition as athletes comes a small measure of responsibility. You can't only accept the accolades when you win and reject scrutiny when an outcome doesn't entirely go your way.

And you are never entitled to be rude.

"I was blatantly immature in my actions," Menk wrote.

Chronicle golf reporter David Westin shared a story with me Friday night about David Duval. The former Georgia Tech golfer had a reputation for petulant behavior as a spoiled prodigy, a habit that was largely ignored as a youngster by fawning media. But one reporter witnessed Duval's unacceptable arrogance in public and wrote about it. Duval later credited that criticism as a turning point in his life.

Menk, who wasn't available when I called his home Saturday night, certainly doesn't need such an attitude adjustment. By all accounts his emotional postgame reaction was out of character.

His true character was evident in recognizing and accepting responsibility for his actions and the sincerity of his apology.

"Today marks the beginning of the off-season," Menk wrote. "If all goes well, my team will be in the same position next year. But if we fall short, I will not act the same toward the reporters."

His apology was welcomely received and accepted. His example, quite rare these days, is exemplary.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.