As winter turns to spring in the Northern Indiana Lakes Region, winter sports change over to spring sports.

The swishing of nets and the splashing of swimmers gives way to the pinging of bats on balls and the track official’s starting pistol.

I have no stats to back it up, but I think more kids commit acts that violate their school’s athletic code in the spring and summer than any other time of the year. That makes them ineligible for the fall and beyond.  

Consider this an open letter to parents, grandparents, guardians and anyone else who is responsible for kids from fifth grade through high school at 6A schools and 1A schools alike.

I am asking you for a favor. No, I am actually begging you to do something for me, and for you, and for those kids.

I want you to pull them aside—somewhere quiet, without anyone else around—and ask them this questions: “Do you vape?” and “Do you drink?”

Here’s a hint, if they drop their eyes to the floor, take that as a “yes.” Another hint: if they say “no” but their eyes look down and to the left, take that as a “yes” also.

Either way, follow up with “If you took a drug test or a Blood Alcohol Content test right now, would you pass it?”

You’re looking for the same responses.

When I was in school in the 1980’s, we all understood that there were kids who smoked occasionally, drank alcoholic beverages and/or did drugs—mostly during the spring and summer. I remember having to stop the team bus on the way home from a soccer game as a sophomore because one of my older teammates was having trouble breathing. I was naïve, and didn’t understand what was really happening until much later.

Once I did know, I was at a point in my life that I didn’t have the confidence and courage to speak up.

I am not 15 years old anymore.

According to a report compiled using IU survey data, about 20-percent of Indiana students say they vape at least 20 days each month, and another 6-percent say they use e-cigarettes that often. The numbers for drinking alcoholic beverages is above 38-percent.

Please, don’t be blind to the truth. Athletes are doing it too! Not just trying it, doing it…regularly.

Maybe they are using the flavored kind. Maybe they are mixing in a little “pot” with it.

You may say “none of your business” or “worry about your own kids.” You don’t understand—your kids are my kids. They are my business. And we’re not just talking about Warsaw athletes here. I care about Wawasee kids, Triton kids, Manchester and NorthWood and Whitko and Lakeland Christian kids too. Non-athletes and athletes alike. However, in my job as a radio announcer and sportscaster, I focus more on athletes. So does this column, generally.

My grief comes from the fact that I am watching kids work all year long, put in hundreds of hours of time in the weight room and conditioning, going to camps and then needlessly putting all of that at risk because they are vaping or drinking. Why? How did they start? Who helped them start? I can’t answer any of those questions.

What I can do is beg you, again, to pull the teen in your life—girls as well as boys—into a room and have one of the most important conversations you’ll ever have with them.

And it starts with those simple, powerful questions: “Do you vape?” and “Do you drink?”

The biggest problem on the team your kid plays on may not be playing time, or whether they throw the ball enough or if the person playing shortstop should be playing short or third. Simply by the numbers, one starter on every basketball team, 2 starters on every baseball and softball team, one golfer, one tennis player, multiple football players—are vaping.

Double that for drinking.

Ask the question.

No matter if they see their classmates doing it and the physical harm it’s doing or has done, they are still doing it. Teammates gets suspended for it, they’ll still doing it.

Ask the question!

Can’t happen here. Not in my family. We’re tight. We live in a certain neighborhood. I know.

Ask the question.

Can’t happen to the kid you know? Maybe that’s what the parents of twin 17-year olds at Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan said. Two years ago, one of their sons had an emergency double-lung transplant, and has started a non-profit organization to help spread the word about the dangers of vaping.

He was a runner, but not anymore.

His twin brother? He couldn’t stop.

Just. Ask. The. Question!