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Recently a young fellow from Sheridan was convicted of first-degree murder. The youth was 15 years old when he shot and killed a 79-year-old man while burglarizing the man's home. The victim was a well-respected and much loved Sheridan citizen.

The youth was in the company of two other young men under the age of 20. The gang of three had a history of hanging out in Kendrick Park and causing trouble.

The crime and punishment are tragedies. It was a tragedy that a wonderful citizen of the city was shot and killed in his bedroom in the middle of the night. It is another tragedy that the young man, now 17, will likely spend the rest of his life in jail.

His mother had largely neglected the young man. His mother had entered into relationships with abusive men. The men abused her and her son physically and mentally. The mother sent her son to live with a great aunt and uncle in Sheridan. (Incidentally, the second youth involved in the crime had been shipped to Sheridan to live with his grandparents).

The youths really had no wholesome activities other than skateboarding at the skate park.

The circle of friends that the youths had was basically in the same boat: they had little parental involvement and supervision in their lives and lots of time on their hands.

I wonder what would have happened to the young fellow if he had been introduced to the joys of the outdoors at an early age. Perhaps his life would have taken a different course.

I can't help but cite the article I wrote about an 11-year-old Sheridan boy that had been introduced to fishing by his father. The boy spent many days in Kendrick Park this summer pursuing the fish that swam in Big Goose Creek. He learned from his dad that certain spinning lures were more effective than others. He learned to cast those lures accurately. Instead of loafing and hanging out, the boy planned his trips meticulously. Anyway, the lad ended up catching some nice smallmouth bass and a rainbow trout and stayed out of trouble.

My mother has a saying that I'm sure most of you have heard, “Idle hands are the devil's workshop.” My mother made sure that my hands weren't idle; she compiled a daily list of chores that I had to complete before I could go off on my own. The list usually had house cleaning chores and work on the lawn and garden.

My Dad provided me with the fishing skills that I used once my chores were finished. He taught me casting skills, lure selection, knots, and a variety of other skills so that I could fish on my own. Most of all, Dad took me fishing. From the time I turned five until I left for college I can count on one hand the times that Dad didn't take me along on his fishing excursions. I have come to believe that if a young person is introduced to fishing or any number of positive outdoor experiences, the youth will think about them when he or she has time on his/her hands.

How to catch the fish, what lure or bait should he/she use, where to fish, and when to fish are questions that he or she will dwell on.

Many of us have learned our outdoor skills by observing our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, or some other adult. Basically, the people who taught us cared for us and wanted to get us hooked on their outdoor pursuit.

Parents, grandparents, relatives, and friends of the family need to step up and do the same thing today. We need to educate our children in outdoor skills. We need to teach them by taking them fishing, hunting, hiking, birding, horseback riding, canoeing, boating, kayaking, and swimming. Most of all, we need to spend time with our children and show them we care.

There are several organizations that are helping our youths in the region. One organization that I highly recommend is Joey's Fly Fishing Foundation that helps disadvantaged youths. Of course, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H, FFA, Campfire Girls, Pheasants Forever (youth hunts), and Ducks Unlimited (Green Wing Program) also have activities for our youngsters.

We need to get involved and give our youths some healthy outdoor alternatives to the drug and troublemaking culture that result from too little supervision and too little love. By doing so, perhaps we can avert further tragedies.

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