Week 1 of high school football quickly showed me two things:

A) Adding a fourth class didn’t dramatically reduce the number of blowouts.

B) The politics of navigating those one-sided games, for both victorious and vanquished coaches, will never change.

Coaches consistently proclaim that games of hammer-versus-nail “aren’t good for anybody,” and those gentlemen are sho’nuff correct.

For the team closer to the top of the mountain, it takes away playing time from the starters, robs them of a chance to work on their efficiency in game situations, and sometimes gives them an inflated sense of security and accomplishment.

To the program at a valley in its development, well, obviously being on the business end of a 42-0 halftime disparity stinks. That coach must give his kids something to grow on and keep an already small number of players engaged.

It leaves both in game-management mode, and not the kind either envisioned when taking the job. And before the horn sounds, those objectives and needs likely will collide.

As Exhibits A, B and C, I present Saturday’s first-ever meeting between Spruce Mountain and Freeport. It was over before it started. The Falcons flaunted zero answers for Peter Theriault, Matt Vigue, Deonte Ring, Andrew Darling or any other Phoenix playmaker. It was 40-6 at the half, and that six was courtesy of a missed tackle on a fourth-and-10 slant pass.

So Spruce Mountain coach Walter Polky did the right thing and rested his offensive and defensive starters in the second half. Freeport coach Rob Grover responded in the right way, by most every unwritten rule I know, and filtered in substitutes while giving his starters a crack at a feelgood touchdown or two.

That’s where it gets messy. Once it got to 40-20 early in the fourth quarter, Polky felt endangered enough to put in his first-team kick return. Boom, an 85-yard TD. Then the Phoenix junior varsity offense scored again, ratcheting the team’s total into the 50s. Suddenly Freeport was back to square one, wanting to end the game on a positive note.

The Falcons were driving, ball in the starting fullback’s hands, when a Spruce Mountain player suffered a neck injury just shy of the two-minute mark. That led to a lengthy delay on a warm afternoon. When play resumed, there was a fumble, a Spruce recovery, a rugby scrum, a late hit, a retaliatory swipe, and two ejections.

Polky, exasperated by the way the game unraveled, ordered his starting offense into the game. Grover called timeout and gave the universal sign for “what gives?” Spruce Mountain made one final statement with a 60-yard run before Freeport saved us all with a tackle short of the goal line.

Whom do I support in this sportsmanship tango, you ask? Both of them, and no, that isn’t a cop out from your perpetually opinionated, friendly neighborhood football columnist.

Grover is trying to maneuver a roster of 27 kids. Twenty-seven. You can bet some of them have nada for varsity experience. The coach doesn’t even have a complete second unit, in other words. It stands to reason that he will always have some starters in the game, whether Freeport is winning or losing by 40.

Polky is reasonable to expect that some of those bigger, stronger kids won’t try to be gym class heroes against his youth in a game that’s all over but the handshake.

But then, Grover might retort, how do you tell 16- and 17-year-olds to let up? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of all the lessons we teach? And he’d be right. Plus, we all know that going half-speed is when players usually get hurt.

And Polky might argue — did, in fact — what’s my recourse? What can you do when you perceive your player taking a cheap shot, one play after seeing another badly injured by a clean one? You make a statement to defend your kids. It’s your job to protect them, not anybody else’s feelings.

Therefore, I support every decision made by both coaches, even if some of those choices run afoul of the sportsmanship police.

Guess I should add that to my list, though I, and most moderate folks, already knew it.

C) Hard as some adults try, you can’t legislate sportsmanship.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Oaksie72.


Facebook comments