By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Cordell Pemsl made the same mistake recently that I made in the early morning hours of Jan. 4, 1987, and I still remember my mistake like it happened yesterday.
My mistake was getting behind the wheel of a car and driving while intoxicated.
A policeman pulled me over in my hometown of Des Moines for speeding and one thing led to another. He smelled alcohol on my breath and then had me perform some sobriety tests, which needless to say, I failed.
In addition to being embarrassed and a shame, the cost of my automobile insurance skyrocketed.
The good news is that nobody was injured due to my poor judgment and carelessness, and I haven’t come close to operating a vehicle under the influence ever since that horrible day more than 30 years ago.
I shared my story with Pemsl, a 6-foot-8 junior forward on the Iowa basketball team, after having interviewed him on Wednesday, and told him that I was more than a year older than he is now when I was arrested for drunken driving at the age of 23.
He smiled and thanked me.
Pemsl was charged with drunken driving in the early morning hours of Sept. 20th in Iowa City.
The Dubuque native was observed by an officer in the area of Clinton and Court streets failing to obey a traffic control device and making an improper left turn. The vehicle Pemsl was driving also had a cracked taillight, police said.
Police said Pemsl showed signs of intoxication, was wearing bar wristbands and admitted to drinking. He showed “measurable impairment” on field sobriety tests and breath testing showed his blood alcohol content to be in the range of .122 to .151 percent, nearly twice the legal limit of .08 percent, according to the criminal complaint.
Pemsl was suspended indefinitely from all team activities, but he is now back with team and eager to contribute in Thursday’s game against North Florida at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Pemsl says he has learned from his mistake and he appreciates the support from his Iowa teammates and coaches.
“I really appreciated the way the team opened up to me, coaches, players, people within the program, everybody,” Pemsl said. “So I’m just glad to be back and just trying to put a foot forward in that chapter of my life and just try to be the best that I can be from here on out.”
Asked what lesson he has learned from his arrest, Pemsl said:
“Honestly, it was more like a learning lesson for me to just be smart about decision making. I’m a grown up. I’m 22-years old. I know what’s right and wrong, and I chose to do wrong that night.
“I just feel like I’ve learned from that and am able to grow and move on.”
Time and his behavior will ultimately determine if Pemsl has learned his lesson, but he seemed sincere and genuine while speaking to the media on Wednesday. He talked about being accountable and about accepting responsibility as an adult who should know better.
Being arrested once for drunken driving was enough for me to get the message, and you hope it’ll be enough for Pemsl to get the message.
Once is an isolated incident, and now it’s just a matter of Pemsl proving it, one day at a time.
He has lot for which to thankful with his body now healthy and with living out a childhood dream of being a Hawkeye.
Pemsl only played in two games last season before taking a redshirt, and then he started this season under suspension.
So he is eager to prove himself again, and not just off the court.
Pemsl brings a level of toughness and outspokenness that distinguishes him from most of his teammates.
He showed that toughness against Iowa State last season when he contributed eight points, six rebounds, one assist and one block during a 98-84 victory at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“I find myself as a guy that kind of wears my emotion on their sleeves and there’s not a lot of guys on our team that do that,” Pemsl said. “And sometimes you just need that little extra, you need to see someone dive for that loose ball or get up and start yelling and stuff like that.
“And then it’s contagious. So that’s just something that I want to do.”