Knowing when less is more can be fulfilling for athletes


High Schools

October 08, 2006|By MILTON KENT

If we're lucky, a pair of recent events might give us opportunities to consider when to tell our kids that enough is enough. One comes from the Midwest, where a school district stopped a football team in the middle of its season, and the other from nearby West Virginia, where a senior ran for 658 yards and 10 touchdowns in one game.

For many, the more egregious of the two was the decision of the local school board to end the Oscoda (Mich.) Area High School's football season after four games.

The team was ordered to quit playing late last month after losing its first four games by scores of 46-0, 30-0, 44-0 and 44-0, and will miss the final five contests of the year.

As one might expect, the Oscoda players and their parents lobbied hard to reconsider the decision the board made Sept. 19. Mike Gondek, the team's senior quarterback told the board: "All I ever wanted to do was play football. My teammates never felt so unsafe that we didn't want to be out there."

But the board wouldn't budge. Said board member Neal Sweet: "Seniors, I feel for you. There's nothing I can say other than I'm sorry. But you're not quitters. You went out there and did your best."

Oddly enough, the board appeared to base its decision to end Oscoda's season on the word of the team's coach, Kyle Tobin, who declared that his team, which represents a school of 530 students, was too overmatched to compete.

"When you go to a game on Friday night and see a team physically dominated, those are the indisputable facts," Tobin said. "I have 28 years of coaching experience in high school and college and I know the difference between a team playing bad and a team that's unsafe."

Tobin, who coached another Michigan team to three state finals and a championship, certainly has the standing to make the call, and in his judgment, Oscoda's players, though full of heart, didn't have the ability to withstand pounding after pounding in a tough conference.

On the face of it, Tobin likely will come across to many as being too compassionate, a quality that is in short supply in the macho world of football. But the more thoughtful among us probably will feel better putting the safety and well-being of our children in the hands of a coach who knows when enough is enough and when more hurts everyone involved.

That brings us to the story of Paul McCoy, the Matewan (W.Va.) senior running back who trampled over Burch High for 658 yards and 10 touchdowns Sept. 29. McCoy had touchdown runs of 69, 1, 52, 56, 52, 20, 31, 84, 87 and 25 yards, with a 77-yard scoring scamper called back because of a penalty.

McCoy's yardage might be a national high school record. The previous mark, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, was 619 yards, accomplished by an Oxnard, Calif., kid in 1995, though a noted high school historian maintains that the acknowledged figure is 739 yards set 46 years ago in New Jersey.

None of it makes a difference. What's of far more importance is why the 5-foot-9, 170-pound McCoy was still in the game long enough to pile up that kind of yardage.

After the game, McCoy's coach, Yogi Kinder, who teaches driver's education at Burch, was anything but repentant about letting his running back run wild.

"Why should there be any guilty feelings?" said Kinder, whose team won, 64-0. "Our school's smaller than they are. Why should I punish my kids for having a pretty good team? We were going to score 60 points if Paul doesn't even get on the bus."

Perhaps, but what would Kinder have said to McCoy or his parents if the kid had suffered a career-threatening injury just to give him the chance to put his name in a record book?

And what about the second- and third-string running backs on the Matewan team who could have received valuable playing experience once the game got out of hand, if their coach hadn't acted like a Neanderthal in quest of another mastodon pelt?

Sportsmanship is increasingly becoming a quaint notion, but it still has some value. At the high school level, sports can still be used as a teaching device, where coping with winning and losing can be just as valuable instructionally as the winning and losing itself.

Kyle Tobin could teach Yogi Kinder something about that, assuming that Kinder didn't drive over the chalkboard.

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