Last week, my high school football team was involved in a game-ending incident.

Some people called it a brawl. Others called it a fight. Some called it unnecessary roughness. I call it unnecessary.

On the surface, our player started it by manhandling an opponent out of bounds on a play that was completely on the other side of the field. At first I was quite angry. Later, after watching film, it was clear that both players were the villains and they had been going at it for most of the game.

The scuffle that ensued resulted in many more players joining in and candidly my players were outnumbered and out-slugged. At one point it escalated to a scary tipping point, but players and coaches stopped it.

It was touch and go for a moment.

There were some bumps and bruises. This week, suspensions are being laid down. But there is more significant damage than that. I am concerned about how two players could get so mad at each other during a game, a simple game, that they want to fight. They need to respect the sport, the opportunity they are given, and embrace it. Yes, teenage egos can be fragile and tempers even more shaky, but football is a game of hitting, until the whistle blows.

Then it’s time to dust yourself off and help your opponent up. And leave it at that.

I love this game too much to let one scary incident chase me away. But looking at film of the episode does send chills up my spine, as one of my players is kicked in the back. Thankfully, all involved cooled down and the two squads shook hands before parting.

It was in the handshake line that my faith in the game was restored. You need to know the referees did not want us shaking hands. But myself and the opposing coach made it happen. It became more than a handshake. Player after player on their team apologized to me for what transpired, complimented us on a good game though we lost by three TDs, and several even opened up for hugs that meant the world to me. Not only for me, but for many of our players.

Thankfully, the spotlight shifted to the midfield armistice, far from the out-of-bounds area we had bloodied only minutes earlier. Here we embraced our tormentors and rejected the previous senselessness. This was, after all, just a high school football game.

One thought on “Out of Bounds

  1. Hi Mark,

    This is an area of great person interest to me.

    It causes me a little bit of physical pain every time I see ice hockey teams shake hands before a game, as is the policy in most leagues. It’s like an assumption that once the game ends there will be enough animosity and disrespect that a fight is inevitable. In a way, we’re sanctioning this idea by removing the post-game handshake.

    To me, the unspoken message of the post-game handshake is that of a thank-you for the shared experience, plus the message that it was only a game and that the game is now over. It’s time to go back to real life.

    Without tough competitors there is no competitive sports. Respect your competitors. You need them.

    That might be one of the most important life lessons kids leave sport with.

    Good for you for taking a stand and forcing the kids to calm down and demonstrate some of this respect. I hope you don’t get disciplined for it…

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