Letter from the Editor

Monday, October 21, 2002

Coaches need a dose of teamwork

High school football coaches have always preached teamwork, character, selflessness and the ability to be cool under fire to their young athletes. For good coaches, those are more than words, they are the foundation for the game and what they hope young men bring away from it.

Sometimes, fans, coaching staffs and even school administrators need to be reminded what it's all about.

The Spencer football incident last week is an example of what can happen when things get out of hand.

Word is that the crowd got all over the young quarterback, screaming for the coach to put in somebody else. The coach, Al Pierce, who is well known and well respected around these parts, bristled - that quarterback also happens to be his son.

The stories from there only get worse - a coach reportedly trying to get people thrown out of the stands, alleged pushing and shoving among the coaching staff, a coach and player in each other's face, parents grouching about nepotism in the backfield. There was a published report claiming that the coach threatened to walk out on the team, and that an off-duty police officer had to separate people in the locker room after the game. One witness called it a case of "coming totally unglued."

A Spencer writer says that as a result of putting the story of the incident in the paper, coaches are now refusing to talk to the newspaper, and school administrators have warned the reporter to "stay away from Pierce."

The coaches did not provide any information for the usual pre-game story this week, she said, which of course only hurts the young players who did nothing to deserve a short-changing in their local paper.

The Spencer Daily Reporter indicated that Pierce would not be allowed to coach his team when they came to Storm Lake last night, or even to be here to watch the game. After that, though, Pierce is expected to return to full coaching privileges this year and beyond. The town of Spencer is said to be up in arms and somewhat split on what to do.

I wasn't there to see the initial incident on the sideline or the confrontations in the locker room, and I won't presume to judge where or if fault should be placed.

But for goodness sake, it's a high school football game, people. Grow up.

Of course, such behavior is par for the course in pro sports, and getting that way in some big-time college athletics too. But high school?

Football is a rough game, and you don't expect it to be a choir practice on the sidelines or in the stands; but an example in character isn't too much to ask for, even when your team is losing.

People in the stands could learn a little character, and not insult boys on the field who are doing the best that they can. Coaches can keep their emotions in check and never allow things to become anything close to physical - the hits belong on the field. Administrators can get off the fence and take quick, decisive and appropriate action to defuse a bad situation - they should ask themselves if the behavior tolerated at a sporting event would be tolerated if it happened in a classroom...

And we in the media can get the kids their coverage without treating high school games as if they were a cross between the Super Bowl and the second coming.

Pierce, to his credit, has reportedly met with his team and apologized. The coaches should be above the silent treatment for media too, reporting game information is part of the job they are paid to do.

Anyone involved who isn't prepared to act with complete character at this point should resign.

Spencer has a quality sports program and quality people, and it will get past this ugly incident, I'm sure.

I hope that by the time you read this, Storm Lake fans will have played gracious hosts to the troubled visiting team this weekend, and that all this mess serves to remind us all that there are more important matters in life than the final score of a sports event played by teenagers.

Sometimes we adults are a little slower at getting the message than the kids are.

During the locker room incident, Spencer player Daniel Butters reportedly came to the coach and said something to the effect of, "We are a family. We stick together... I know it hurt because it was your son out there, but you have a team to coach."

A lineman from that Spencer team, Grant Uhe, said it pretty well when asked for comment after the ugly scene.

"Right now everyone just wants to play football," the kid said.

Yeah, that says it pretty well. Just let the kids play football. We should all be so mature.