Charles E. Richardson

RICHARDSON: Running out of time

“My heart goes out to the seniors. They don’t get another opportunity at this ... college goes so fast. In those four years, you only get four cracks at it.”

-- North Carolina Junior

Guard Marcus Paige

The calm and composed Paige was speaking to the media with his coach Roy Williams to his left and teammate Justin Jackson to his right. This following the loss by the Tar Heels to No. 1 seed in the West, Wisconsin, 79-72, in the NCAA Basketball Tournament on Thursday.

What Paige said should be a lesson to all high school and aspiring college students. When you’re young, it takes quite a bit of introspection to understand how quickly time flies. “College, it goes so fast ...” Paige said. But he also said something we can all stick in our pockets. He had just come off of a season-ending loss and realization that he only gets one more shot at an NCAA championship. He lamented squandered opportunities to win the game, and he talked about the commitment needed to get back to the Big Dance.

I’m not sure anyone can impress on young people the value of time. Like Paige, they have to experience it for themselves, and that generally happens at the end of something. Young people can’t fully capture the sense of how fleeting time is until, if they stick to it, they’re sitting in a large auditorium with a mortarboard on their head and a gown wrapped around their shoulders.

Some wake up the day after graduation ready and anxious about the next phase of their lives. They’ve thought and prepared for the future. Others, however, wake up and go back to sleep thinking that pulling the covers over their head will halt time’s incessant march.

I remember telling my nephew Demetric when he lived with us for a while in middle school how quickly his high school career would fly by. He didn’t understand. He understands now. He, like others, myself included, can look back on those days and think about how carefree we were, but also about missed opportunities.

It’s a phase of life where there is little help. You’re supposed to be a man or woman and able to make your own decisions, but you lack the tools. There was a disconnect between what we were learning in high school and how that applied to the real world. The disconnect was sometimes due to our short attention spans.

All across Middle Georgia there are eighth-grade students who are about to transition to high school. Different districts call it different things. In Bibb County, its called “Smooth Move.” The efforts to get children with raging hormones to see what awaits them when they enter the ninth grade is extensive. Some districts, like Jones County, address the transition with a ninth-grade academy. There is a section I would love to lead: Reality 101.

Children believe their idyllic lives will last forever. They hear counselors talking about grade-point averages and required courses and Carnegie Units, but most of it might as well be in Chinese.

To avoid or lessen this life-changing period of awakening, parents and teachers have to form a team. And that team needs to deal with the realities of life. Unfortunately, this is the stage of life where children believe their parents are complete nincompoops. Teenagers enter a black hole as freshmen and don’t emerge until they’re juniors. Sometimes, the black hole’s grip lasts much longer.

Here’s a way to get to them, but you have to start early. Parents, don’t try to fulfill your children’s every fantasy. Reward expected high performance, but they shouldn’t be trained to get when they don’t give. Use the old Smith Barney phrase: We do things the old fashioned way, “we earn it.”

For all types of reasons, those who can least afford to give their children $200 tennis shoes break their backs to do so. If they’re going to spend $200, hire a math tutor.

We make choices that baffle. Our children feel good about themselves and we soothe some of the guilt we carry for whatever reason, but there’s no substance.

Most youngsters aren’t as talented as Marcus Paige. North Carolina isn’t a school for flakes. He could, if he wanted, enter the NBA draft. He’s projected to be a second-round pick. However, if I read him right, he has his sights set on another NCAA run. He loves Chapel Hill, and he understands his time there is running out.

Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at Tweet@crichard1020.