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Schmidl's role of avenger is justifiable

He has gone from accused minor criminal to community symbol.

Let there be no mistake. As was confirmed after Tuesday's court hearing, this is not just another harassment case. Charles Schmidl stands as a crusader for a cause.

The cause is the right of an adult to defend himself -- and his 5-year-old son -- against the alleged abuse of an out-of-control 10-year-old. It is a line in the sand against lax parenting and the obnoxious offspring that it produces. It is a voice for the rights of those wronged by every spoiled brat spawned by absent or permissive parents.

In an era when discipline seems to have gone out of style and responsibility hides under a rock, this thing is bigger than Charles Schmidl. Or any one of us.

Schmidl is 38, trim and tanned, with an athlete's stride. He did not imagine becoming the face of Enraged Adults Everywhere when he took his son for a mid-April skate at the Amherst Pepsi Center. A 10-year-old with a hockey stick, according to Schmidl, taunted him, shot pucks at him and his boy and dared him to do something about it.

Schmidl said he searched for 40 minutes in vain for security or staff at the center, then took matters into his own hands. He grabbed the kid and dragged him off the ice. The boy's mother appeared and had Schmidl arrested.

Amherst cops say witness accounts largely confirm Schmidl's story. The boy has had previous trouble at the rink, and his family is "familiar" to Amherst police.

In the court of law, Schmidl faces charges of harassment and endangering the welfare of a child. In the court of public opinion, Schmidl is a hero. I got dozens of e-mails after previously writing about the case, mostly defending his actions.

Schmidl emerged unrepentant from Tuesday's court hearing.

"The [court] will hopefully provide the [justification] for what I believe," Schmidl said. "[Protecting] my son is the most important thing for me."

Schmidl's attorney did most of the talking, but the message was clear: The case is less about the law than it is about principles.

I do not condone putting hands on somebody else's kid. As a matter of law, I think Schmidl loses. As a matter of common sense, he's an action hero: Justifiable Avenger of the League of Authority.

Schmidl merely did what the boys' parents ought to have done long ago: ladle out a generous helping of discipline.

No kid is perfect. No adult is perfect. But when a 10-year-old uses an adult for target practice, it says to me that the parents have not been minding the store. It takes a lot of parental coddling, excuse-making and myopia to produce a mini-monster of this magnitude.

Instead of turning the other cheek, Schmidl stood his ground. Instead of meekly walking away, Schmidl refused to be abused. I am not saying that it was the smart thing to do. But given the situation, I can understand and even sympathize with it.

Maybe the full story will be told only in court. But if what we heard reflects what happened, Schmidl stands for the parent of every kid who has been victimized. He is the symbol of every adult who puts up with somebody else's parenting mistake.

"My client intervened because he had to," said attorney James Hartt. "I believe the people of Buffalo understand what [Schmidl] did. . . . He did what he had to do to have the kid held accountable."

Odds are that it will not play in court. But in the court of public opinion, Schmidl is a crusader for a cause.

If bad parenting were a crime, Schmidl stands as society's superhero. The court may punish him. The rest of us want to pat him on the back.

e-mail: desmonde@buffnews.com

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