Coaches point to Ravens as role models in reverse

On High Schools

October 16, 2005|By MILTON KENT

Sometimes, you can learn a lot just by keeping quiet and listening. Joppatowne High football coach Bill Waibel did some listening and learning last week.

Waibel, who also teaches at the school, overheard a few conversations among his players and students about last Sunday's Ravens-Detroit Lions game and he learned quite a bit about what the kids took from the penalty-filled contest.

"The kids watch pro football," Waibel said. "Some of the kids were a little bit shocked by it, and that surprised me. There were a few that were laughing at it, and there were a few that looked up to them. One kid on my team just shook his head."

From a distance, it appeared that Terrell Suggs, Chris McAlister, Maake Kemoeatu and Ed Reed were behaving like louts at Ford Field in Detroit with their ejections and penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Believe it or not, the Ravens' band of unmerry men was providing a valuable community service, especially for high school football coaches.

If you want to teach your players how not to conduct themselves during a game, you talk about the game in which the Ravens piled up a team-record 21 penalties - three of them for unsportsmanlike conduct - and two ejections.

"I know that athletes have said, `I'm not a role model. Your parents are your role models,' " said Gilman coach Biff Poggi. "I agree with the second part of that: Parents are role models. But whether you like it or not, you are a role model. What kids see sometimes as acceptable, they think is acceptable. You have to be ever-vigilant in teaching that it's not."

A number of area coaches spent the past week doing just that, teaching their players that what they saw last Sunday can't happen in their games.

"What happened on Sunday was a case where [the Ravens] were faced with adversity," said River Hill coach Brian Van Deusen. "They got some bad calls and they lost their cool. As coaches, if we can keep our composure and keep our cool, that helps with the kids. A lot of times, the kids will match the personality of the coaching staff. Hopefully, that keeps us out of those harmful situations."

For the most part, there have been few over-the-top moments in recent high school football memory. The state public school rule that a player ejected from one game must miss the next one has helped keep kids in line.

In addition, coaches have worked diligently to police their sport, keeping as much arrested development as possible out, starting with practice.

"Kids are kids," said Poggi, whose Greyhounds are ranked atop the area polls. "We're all human beings and a guy may catch a long pass in practice and he's whooping and hollering, and you've got to go talk to him.

"You say, `It's great to be excited and we want you to be excited, but it's not about you beating that defensive back. It's about a team making a great play.' It happens all the time in practice, so you teach to it on a specific basis."

But it's not easy for coaches to maintain total vigilance, particularly with a variety of external factors.

One of them is age-old, with football players being glorified as the most visible of athletes at most schools. One is a more recent development, the onslaught of modern video games in which digitized players make superhuman plays and are hyped up by phony audiences.

But then there's another issue for coaches to cope with, namely the play of professional players who command the Sunday spotlight. As a coach, you can spend the entire week lecturing your athletes about the virtues of good sportsmanship, only to see it ruined by a flaky receiver who scores a touchdown and is lauded for a flamboyant, look- at-me celebration.

"I think there is [a correlation] to a point," Van Deusen said. "Some of the stuff that you see, whether it's T.O. [Terrell Owens] or some of the guys, is just out there and our kids are smart enough to recognize that you just can't do that.

"But to a point, with some of the stuff you see, whether it's high-stepping or celebrating and even with the taunting, the kids see it on TV and a lot of times kids like to imitate what they see on TV.

"They might not think it's a big deal, but I've been coaching for 10 years now. Over those last years, you've seen more of those celebrating penalties and the taunting penalties on the high school level than you did years ago."

Worse yet is when the big-time players step out of line and are not punished for it.

Poggi, for instance, is troubled by the fact that while Suggs and Reed were fined $15,000 each by the NFL for making contact with officials, neither was disciplined by Ravens coach Brian Billick.

"To say there's no penalty for those kinds of behaviors, I think sends a bad message that somehow it's OK if you're a pro to behave that way, and it's not OK," Poggi said.

For Waibel, whose father, Augie, was a legendary coach at Edmondson and Poly, the key to maintaining a sportsmanlike attitude on a team is to communicate your expectations at all times.

"What we have to do is create a standard where if the behavior is detrimental to the football program, if it brings disgrace to Joppatowne High School, to a particular player, his family or myself, then it's not acceptable," Waibel said. "My dad used to say, `When you get to the end zone, act like you've been there before.'

"It was true when I played 25 years ago for him, and it still is true today."

Maybe the Ravens could learn a little by listening to the kids and their coaches.milton.kent@baltsun.com

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