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Coaches: Michael Phelps scandal an opportunity to talk to young athletes

Michael Phelps' apology for using a marijuana pipe presents an opportunity to talk to young athletes about drug use, poor judgment and how to learn from a mistake, Long Island swim coaches said.

Long Island coaches said they would use the incident as a teachable moment, driving home the point that drugs undermine athletic performance and that Phelps will suffer the consequences of his actions, losing esteem, and perhaps endorsements.

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"It's upsetting on so many different levels," said Bill Kropp, head coach for varsity boys swimming at Sachem East High School, where the swim team swelled this year with students inspired by Phelps.

"As a coach, you bring up role models, and obviously he is the poster boy of excellence," Kropp said. "It's something that he has to live with, and we have to live with as coaches and parents."

Phelps posted an apology on his Facebook page, where more than 500 fans had written comments about the incident yesterday evening. Though the messages were overwhelmingly supportive, some fans were disappointed.

"We should all learn from this," said Peter Hugo, Nassau County's boys swimming coordinator. "Even Michael Phelps makes mistakes. We have to learn to forgive and forget as long as it doesn't happen a second time."

Larry Sullivan, head coach for boys and girls varsity swimming at Connetquot High School, noted that this isn't the first time Phelps has disappointed his students.

In 2004, a few months after winning eight medals in Athens, the swimmer, then 19, pleaded guilty to a drunken driving charge.

Phelps apologized for the mistake and moved past the embarrassment, becoming a record-winning medal winner and an idol to millions of young fans.

Phelps' latest misstep could help parents talk to their children about drugs, Sullivan said.

"That should bring the parent closer to their child, enhancing that teachable moment," he said. "Saying listen, it's something he regrets. You have to learn from your mistakes."

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