Our Opinion: Coach high school football players on respect for rules and game officials

Blame the coaches.

For better or worse, it’s the men and women pacing the sidelines of high school sporting events in the Wyoming Valley and beyond who set the tone for games and ultimately carry responsibility for players’ conduct. Good coaches realize their role. Great ones embrace it.

And then there are the rest – pseudo-coaches seemingly oblivious to all but the Xs and Os. They fixate on final scores, and sometimes settling scores.

A twisted sense of payback apparently was the motive for a bizarre, and possibly criminal, on-field incident last week during the waning minutes of a Texas high school football game. Two defensive players, whose actions were captured on a video gone viral, seemingly made a beeline for a referee and deliberately rammed him to the turf. The vicious, come-from-behind hits led to the suspension of two players and an assistant coach at San Antonio’s John Jay High School.

The players alleged the referee had used racial slurs, according to The Associated Press. They students also alleged that the assistant coach had told them something to the effect of “that guy needs to pay for cheating us.”

The state’s high school sports governing body and police are investigating the claims.

While much about this ugly matter is still open for debate – and fueling a dialogue nationally among sports fans and other observers – this much seems evident: Even before the referee took a jarring hit, things on the football field had spiraled out of control. Late hits. Punching. Actions that resulted in ejections.

That’s unacceptable behavior but by no means unique to the Lone Star State.

Poor player conduct sometimes mars Friday nights in our part of Pennsylvania; for that matter, scuffles at one time routinely broke out during an after-the-season football match-up of select athletes – played for charity! Certain adults in the bleachers even cheered the absurdity.

It all comes back to coaching.

From the first practice, the coaching staff needs to make clear that participating in a high school sport is a privilege and, with it, come certain expectations. Chief among them: Each player must abide by the rules.

Instructing a wide receiver on how to run a crisp pattern is one thing; but, for teenage players, it’s of greater importance to drill in life lessons: the value of preparation and repetition, appreciating teamwork, adapting to failure, keeping emotions in check.

Dropped pass? Play harder. Bad call by the referee? Move on.

The people in striped shirts get paid modestly to call games, invariably make errors and, in some instances, might even be jerks. Nevertheless, it is a coach’s duty to make sure every player takes the field equipped with the appropriate gear and know-how as well as the proper respect.

Without respect, no one wins.