MICKEY MAURER Commentary: Take off blinders to teen drinking

June 18, 2007

Robocop was sighted in Boone County a couple of weeks ago. It was the occasion of a sleepover graduation party at the home of Jack Trudeau, former quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts.

To create a safe environment for his daughter and her Park Tudor School classmates at the party, Trudeau reportedly told police, he recorded the name of every guest and confiscated all car keys. Although he said he did not supply liquor, he was no doubt aware that some overnight bags contained more than toothbrushes and pajamas. For that infraction, he was blindsided and sacked. What a shame.

It was not a drunken brawl at the Trudeau house. Of the approximately 70 guests, only about a dozen tested positive for alcohol.

Trudeau and his wife, Lisa, are charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and furnishing alcohol to a minor. Because the teen-age guest list disappeared, a felony charge of obstruction of justice has been piled on to Jack Trudeau. This is not a five-yard penalty. Conviction could lead to a sentence of up to three years' imprisonment.

For a quarterback who orchestrated in NFL backfields for 15 years, Trudeau's timing was lousy-less like Manning, more like Wally Pipp. Just last month, a Boone County teen-ager, Jonathan Pavey, was involved in a serious one-car accident in which alcohol was a key factor. He was a fine athlete who was named to the 2006 Indiana Football Coaches Association Senior 4-A All-State Team. He probably will not be playing football again.

This heightened sensitivity to teen-age drinking has Boone County enforcement authorities on edge. Boone County Sheriff Ken Campbell has been vocal in his notice to residents of Boone County that teen-age drinking will not be tolerated. Apparently, Trudeau missed the audible. Campbell missed the point.

Wake up, sheriff. Your teen-agers are drinking and you are powerless to stop it. According to a Harvard University study, more than three-fourths of students have had alcohol by the end of high school. A recent Indiana University survey of alcohol use by Indiana children showed that nearly two-thirds of 12th-grade students are consuming alcohol. Moreover, a 2005 Indiana Youth Risk Behavior Survey found nearly half of Indiana high school students reported having drunk alcohol in the past 30 days.

And why not? According to the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, the typical American young person will see 100,000 beer commercials before he or she turns 18. Eliminating lock-down private graduation parties where alcohol is consumed will not stop teen-agers from drinking. It will just put them back on the street. It wouldn't surprise me if the genesis of lock-down parties was a Pavey-like incident.

Parties like this have been going on for decades. I know. My wife, Janie, and I hosted a graduation party at our home. Just like Jack Trudeau, we recorded names and confiscated keys. After all the teenagers had stashed their bags, we quietly crept downstairs and opened every bag that "clinked." We removed all the hard alcohol. We left some beer.

Some activities technically illegal are administered by reasonable enforcement authorities in such a way as to more accurately reflect society's expectations. Tolerance should be exhibited when these activities are responsible and customary. Among these activities, limited drinking at graduation parties in a safe environment should be listed along with betting on the Final Four and purchasing a ticket in the office Indy 500 pool.

There is nothing new here. Trudeau was operating from a time-tested template. In a well-intentioned but misguided effort to prevent the tragic results of teen-age drinking and driving, authorities in Boone County have encouraged that very activity by threatening a custom of creating safe havens that has endured for years.

Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Media Corp., which owns Indianapolis Business Journal. To comment on this column, send e-mail to mmaurer@ibj.comor go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.com.
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