The fine line of maintaining control and, when it breaks down, finding fairness

The world-renowned orthopedic surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, a Homer native, was in town last Thursday speaking to coaches and parents at the BHP Billiton YMCA. 

His services would have come in handy in the officials’ dressing room at Independence Stadium, checking on the rotator cuffs of the officiating crew, which threw 22 flags in the first half of the Huntington-Woodlawn game.  

I’m telling you, it’s not just the arms of 10-year old pitchers we need to worry about.    

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t remember any egregious fouls called. There was no shortage of sloppy play — on both sides. But it made it incredibly difficult to watch.  

Late in the game, things went from bad to worse. 

With 6:19 to play, and Huntington holding a lopsided 50-28 advantage, a brawl broke out along the Huntington sideline.  

If you’ve watched football for any length of time, you have seen this scenario play out before. Late hit on the sidelines. Penalty flag thrown in the air. A Huntington player lets his emotions get the best of him and pops an unsuspecting Woodlawn Knight. Then, all hell breaks loose for a few moments.  

Several Knights had a thought to sprint to the other sideline and come to the aid of their teammates, many of whom were involved in the fisticuffs. 

But they were stopped by a fast-acting Woodlawn coaching staff, several of whom were smart enough to turn their back to the fight and warn the Knights to stay put. The players listened. 

As a former head coach, I was impressed to see the quick control of the situation because the natural instinct is to run to the action and watch what’s going on.  

Had it not been for their actions, Woodlawn probably would not have enough players to field a team for this week’s game against Bossier, as all of the players who left the sideline would have to face a one-game suspension for fighting – whether they threw a punch or not.  

When the black rubber pellets at Independence Stadium settled back into the artificial grass, and the head coaches and principals of both schools met to discuss the situation, two players on each team were ejected.  

Barring an unlikely appeal and an overturn by the LHSAA, all four players will be suspended for one game. 

 That penalty – from what I saw Thursday night – passed the eye test and is warranted.  

While I didn’t agree with the decision to continue the game, it resumed without incident. And kudos to both coaching staffs and officials for settling the teams down in order to finish.  

In the Byrd-Parkway game there were two more ejections. That’s six for Week 7 if you’re counting at home. Full moon? They say Mother Nature is undefeated.  

A Parkway player gets mad because Parkway does not convert a fourth down. He throws the football and hits a Byrd player in the head. In the second half, the same player engages in what can be described as extracurricular behavior while he is on top of the pile. 

The Yellow Jacket defensive lineman gives the Parkway offensive lineman, who is holding his head down until the whistle blows, a quick punch as he is getting up off the turf. 

Not excusing the Byrd player for what he did. He was wrong. 

The Parkway player will have to take a sportsmanship class and be available Friday night when Parkway plays Natchitoches Central. The Byrd player, because it was “fighting,” will have to sit out Thursday night’s game against Airline, unless there is an appeal and it’s overturned. 

The punishment for the Byrd player does not fit the crime. Penalty? Yes. One-game suspension? No.  

It’s a fine line we ask these teenagers and their under-developed frontal lobes to walk under the Friday night lights. 

“Go knock his ass in the dirt … play through the whistle … but stop when you don’t hear it.”  

“Don’t take anything from anybody … but don’t get a penalty.”  

It’s physical, hand-to-hand combat, and it’s hard to turn the switch off and on an average of 75 times a game – or 150 if the player goes both ways. 

The standard we are trying to hold high school football players to is much higher than the standard we see when we watch our favorite college teams on Saturday, or our favorite NFL teams on Sunday.  

Remember the NFL’s Week No. 2, Saints vs. Bucs? Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans? Yes, he was suspended – and rightfully so. But what about the role Marcus Lattimore and Leonard Fournette played in the melee? Both threw punches as other players and referees were trying to break it up. Both played the following week. 

No sportsmanship class. No one-game suspension. 

Now there is talk about the National Federation of High Schools making a push penalized the same as a hit. 

But, it’s not the same.  

Not only that, it’s hard to legislate aggressive behaviors out of a game that is inherently violent.  

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