Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Finding clarity in a mea culpa

My favorite TV show has always been “Happy Days.” It aired in the 1970s and into the ‘80s. It was a coming-of-age story about the lives of four boys growing up in Milwaukee. One of the main characters in the series was nicknamed “The Fonz” and played by Henry Winkler. He was a caricature from another era and was the bad boy of the neighborhood. When he made a mistake, as he often did, he would slur his apology. In a nearly inaudible voice he would mumble, “I’m sorry.”

I’m going to apologize more loudly.

Last week I wrote a scathing column about the La Cañada High School varsity soccer program. I hammered the coach and the team over what I thought had been unsportsmanlike conduct. I objected to the team sitting down without shaking their opponents’ hands at the end of the game. My thoughts were accusatory. I questioned the character of the team and the coach.

My facts were wrong and, after considerable reflection and analysis, I fall on my sword and in an audible voice I apologize for my error. I should have dug deeper to find out the reasoning behind the decision not to shake hands on the field that day. I’ve since learned the coach was trying to maintain calm after a heated game.

As J.R.R. Tolkien said, “All who wander are not lost.” When one pursues the truth long enough they often find it.

To the team: My apologies to you for disparaging your character. I trust that you are valiant players and my characterization of you as being dishonorable was wrong. Actually, as I craft these thoughts I am sitting in the stands watching you play San Marino. Your team is quite good.

Guys, life is not always fair and sometimes you are going to take some pretty rough hits that are unwarranted. You have to take another’s “best shot” and move on. Regardless of the heat that is placed on you, never allow another to define you with his negativity. Life becomes progressively more difficult as you age and now is the time to define a center that enables you to excel when you are under scrutiny. Nothing can destroy you but you.

Coach: You did the right thing by sitting the team down and potentially averting an incident that could have had serious consequences. My apologies to you. I was the athletic administrator at Glendale College for a number of years and have a methodology that is contrary to yours. Nevertheless, you should not have been vilified for not being in sync with my analysis.

So what’s the point of this past week? How do we learn from this? How do we grow and change? Maybe we have to look within, as there were lessons on both sides of this debate. Maybe different philosophies relative to sports in La Cañada might be considered. I have a definitive philosophy that athletics is the servant of a higher quest. Winning is incidental to developing an individual in totality. Maybe there’s potential for such a discussion. Maybe there’s some resolve relative to what I put you through this week that will make our athletics prosper.

Winning and losing are ultimately the same. What’s important is how you win or lose and how you’ve changed because of it, and what you take away from it that you never had before, to apply to other aspects of life. If you are willing to examine yourself, and look at not just your outward physical performance, but also your internal workings, then athletics will serve you well.

I step away from this, move on, and hopefully I’ll finally finish chapter 12 this week of the Great American Novel. However, I remain a fan of the Spartans and once again I am proud to be a booster.


JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

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