Everyone has those moments in life, those words they wish they could take back, the mistakes they wish would be forgotten, the decisions they want to undo.

Everyone has those moments in life, those words they wish they could take back, the mistakes they wish would be forgotten, the decisions they want to undo.

However, more and more people every day make sure those moments will live on forever through social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Myspace.

The same old mistakes are being made in new ways, and for high school athletes it can be life-altering.

Social media are putting those athletes’ words, decisions and lives – for better or worse – out there for the world to see.

Harmful words that used to be whispered in halls or illegal activity hidden from the public eye are finding their way onto social media websites. With 500 million-plus users on Facebook, it’s almost guaranteed those words will not fall upon deaf ears or those illegal activities missed by a blind eye. There there other more salacious social media sites sites where it seems like anything can be said or posted without any fear of repercussion. This type of site seem to have garnered a number of posts from the Blue Springs, Blue Springs South, Fort Osage and other area school districts.

It’s a problem school administrators like Fort Osage athletic director Brandon Hart finds himself dealing with more and more each year.

Schools have little jurisdiction over what students do on social media outside of school hours. However, high school athletes are held to a different standard.

“Athletics is a privilege and not a right,” Hart said. “It can tie into their participation and their eligibility on the athletic side.”

Hart said a couple of times a season he finds himself dealing with some sort of problem through social media.

Problems can range from an athlete speaking ill of his teammates or coaches over social media to images of an athlete engaging in activity that goes against the team’s code of conduct or is illegal.

“By the time it gets to me, it’s usually pretty bad,” Hart said.

At Fort Osage, Hart said, no one actively peruses social media websites looking for violations. Instead he acts mostly when an issue is brought to him.

“We really don’t want to have a ‘gotcha’ culture,” Hart said. “We don’t want to have a culture where kids aren’t free to express themselves.

“But at the same time, they represent our school, and we want a positive representation.”

 The issues are brought to his attention by parents and students mostly.

“I think our parents have good intentions,” Hart said. “(They’re) trying to get some help for these kids, especially if it’s their child’s friend and they’re hanging out with this person.”

Just because a picture or a statement is laid down in front of him, Hart doesn’t automatically consider the student in question guilty.

“If a picture is sent to me of a student drinking, that they got on Facebook, we would talk to that student,” Hart said. “We would give them their due process. We would talk to their parents, and we would figure out exactly what it is that we’re looking at and make a determination off of our investigation.”

Even if the student has done nothing wrong, Hart said, he feels it’s important to let that student and their family know that perception, fair or not, is out there.

Perception can at times be all it takes to ruin an athlete’s future.

“I’ve talked to college coaches,” Hart said. “One of the first things they do when they are recruiting a kid is they look at his Facebook page.”

Scott Bostwick, the football head coach at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, which recruits heavily in the metro area, said the Bearcats do not use social media to check on kids currently. However, it’s likely not too far off.

“I haven’t ever done that,” Bostwick said. “It something we should probably think about.”

The wrong pictures or the wrong statements could be the difference between a full ride or no scholarship offer at all for a high school athlete.

“There are a lot of kids who can run fast and jump high, but they want to know the character of a kid,” Hart said.

Social media posts also could affect the eligibility of an athlete, which could adversely affect their scholarship hopes.

Punishment for illegal activity is subject to the school’s policies. Hart said at Fort Osage the first offense is 20 percent of the season’s contests for drinking. The first offense for drugs is 40 percent. The second for both is a 365-day suspension.

The Blue Springs School District has a three-strikes policy. The first violation of the athletic conduct code also is 20 percent, the second is 40 percent and a third is a full year suspension from extracurricular activities.

In Independence, the first strike is 20 percent. The second is 50 percent, and the third is dismissal from the team.

If police learn of potentially illegal activity through a social media posting, their approach is similar to that of the school’s, said Blue Springs Police Chief Wayne McCoy.

“We do not scan social media sites looking for violations,” McCoy said. “If someone notifies us of a photo with potential violations in Blue Springs, we’ll investigate it.”

At Fort, instances that aren’t illegal but violate a team’s rules are handled on a case-by-case basis.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, because it’s such a vast piece,” Hart said of social media.

To help combat these problems, Fort Osage takes an active approach with social media. After all, Hart said, social media can be a very valuable resource if a coach is trying to get in touch or get information out to his players.

“Facebook and those social network pages are so big, they’re such a big part of the culture that we try to embrace them really,” Hart said. “We try to teach our kids responsible use of it.”

Hart said it’s not something that is going away. So, responsible use is the only way to make sure social media are a tool, not a hurdle.

“Kids need to know whenever they’re in a social setting that that’s going to get out there,” Hart said.

That fact alone can actually be a deterrent to some student-athletes. Even if a person doing something wrong doesn’t post it on a social media site, someone else can.

Still, Hart finds trouble popping up here and there. He said it’s the same mischief high schoolers were getting in over the past quarter century. Now it’s just more prevalent and visible.

People are also more bold on social media.

“Kids are not as hesitant to speak their minds on Facebook,” Hart said. “They’re not as hesitant to put themselves out there because they’re sitting behind a computer.”

Dr. Andrew Jacobs, a sports psychologist who works with the Kansas City Royals and has worked with the Chiefs and the U.S. Olympic team, said it all boils down to a lack of responsibility.

“One thing that has happened with the whole explosion of social media is a lack of responsibility,” he said. “You have a half dozen ways to communicate with someone and not have to come face to face with someone.

“They think it is easy to get off and not be responsible for your actions. We have a whole generation of kids today who feel that way.”

Hart said social media has actually resulted in discipline where otherwise it would have been impossible.

“There are cases that wouldn’t have been disciplined had it not been for social networking,” Hart said, “because we wouldn’t have ever found out.”