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My Person of the Year (so far)

If I awarded a Person of the Year (and I don’t, so don’t ask) I would have to seriously consider the following gentleman for the honor.

In Utah, a high school football coach suspended his entire team because, as he puts it, players were showing a “lack of character,” according to the Deseret News. Union High School coach Matt Labrum ordered all 80 of his team players to turn in their jerseys last week. This had nothing to do with wins and losses, this had to do with the fact that players had been cutting class or been involved in the cyber bullying of a fellow student.

“We felt like everything was going in a direction that we didn’t want our young men going,” Labrum told the Deseret News. “We felt like we needed to make a stand.”

The coach met with his players and gave them a letter stating what they needed to do to earn their way back onto the team. Labrum spoke of a lack of character off the field and the fact that playing high school football is a privilege, not a right. The newspaper reported that, instead of practicing the following week, players were expected to do community service and attend study halls.

Bravo, Coach.

As a former sports writer, I can give first-hand testimony that this is all too rare. In a decade or so of sports reporting I covered every high school sport out there and got to know the teams and their coaches very well. Choosing honor over wins is not something every coach out there is willing to do. I once covered a team on which a varsity player had physically assaulted one of the coaching staff. It was never reported and no one would confirm it happened, but it happened. You would think this player would have been instantly booted off the team. Nope. He continued to play on the team with no suspension whatsoever. Maybe he learned his lesson? Nope. He did the same thing to the same coach again, though not to the same degree. A teachable life moment was ignored for the sake of a few wins. I hope this player eventually learned the error of his ways, but if he did it was without any help from the coaching staff.

I know it’s hard to pull away from doing the easy thing and do the hard thing even if it’s the right thing to do. And this isn’t to say that there aren’t more coaches who would have done the same thing the coach in Utah did — I believe there are. But the stories of this magnitude are far too rare. I hope the parents supported Labrum and his efforts to make a significant impact in the thinking of these young men. I’ve also seen firsthand the intense pressure coaches on all levels come under from parents, many of whom only care if their son or daughter gets playing time and not so much about the message being sent.

Remember the McKinney North cheerleader fiasco? There was even a Lifetime movie made about it, starring someone I should probably remember but don’t. Anyway, the basic gist of the story is that a group of varsity cheerleaders stopped in at an adult - uh, how do I put this - “novelties” shop and posed with a - uh, how do I put this - an “item” for photos. These photos, as they all do nowadays, made the rounds and, needless to say, the cheer director was none too pleased. She suspended the girls in question, all of whom had unquestionably violated the code of conduct. Did I mention that they took this adult-type photo in full North cheerleading uniform?

Some of these parents, instead of directing their anger where it belonged, unleashed their outrage on the school district and the cheer director. The result was reduced suspensions for all and a proverbial slap in the face to the cheer director, who later resigned. It was a sad state of affairs and ultimately looked bad for the cheerleaders, their families and the school district. The cheer director who tried to teach the girls in the first place came out ultimately vindicated.

There are plenty of teachable moments in the lives of our children. The decision is ours whether we want to take the time to make sure those lessons are taught.

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