It was everything that is slowly but surely destroying high school sports — and in the bigger picture, American society — captured in one screenshot.

Nine hours after a gut-wrenching, abrupt end to the football season, having a two-point conversion in overtime denied on his team’s home field, Cony coach B.L. Lippert absorbed the most cowardly of late hits.

Kalle Oakes, Sports Columnist

At 6:25 a.m. Saturday, Lippert’s phone received a text message, one he shared on Twitter later in the morning with the sane, silent majority in cyberspace.

“Thanks for last night,” it began, followed by the dreaded ellipsis, which we all know is the electronic equivalent of spitting on yourself. “You continue to embarrass Cony and Augusta. Might be time for a new coach that knows how to win games when it counts. Everyone knew (the quarterback) was going to run and Mt. Blue did too. I’m disappointed and tired of you as a coach.”

And we continue to wonder why Maine high school sports are hemorrhaging participants, barely have enough referees to function, and continue to lose good people from the coaching ranks with every off-season cycle.

Oh, but the story gets better. The text message originated from an Alabama area code.

Now if you believe there’s a fan in Nick Saban’s backyard who is that emotionally invested in the modern incarnation of the Pine Tree Conference, I have a vacation home in Mobile to sell you.

There’s an app for everything these days, and clearly a Cony fanatic found one that could mask his or her out-of-proportion outrage and lunacy by ascribing it to a faraway, fictitious phone number.

Please join me in a moment of prayer or meditation in accordance with your faith that it will infect the perpetrator’s device with every form of malware that’s ever been invented and a few that haven’t yet.

It’s just another yahoo who is either stupefied by Junior’s lack of playing time or holds wins and losses in Maine Class B football to an exponentially elevated plane of importance in the grand scheme.

What gets me is that Cony had a 50/50 chance of punching that read-option into the end zone and surviving 22-21 instead of losing 21-20. Maybe then they go on a run, beat Lawrence and Brunswick and reach the state final.

So then what? Naturally this text never would have been sent. Probably this joker walks up to Lippert and shakes his hand or slaps him on the shoulder, the 2019 sports booster equivalent of Judas’ kiss.

Because we all know a troll who went to these extremes to ruin what was already a dreadful day-after didn’t develop that hatred of the coach overnight. You can bet the keyboard warrior has been poisoning the water behind the scenes for weeks, months, autumns.

Of course this is hardly a new phenomenon. Heck, one of my favorite sports movies of all time is not-so-loosely based on an Indiana basketball team that made an unlikely run to the state title in 1954 after its fans spent most of the winter throwing stones at the new coach.

It’s easier and more insidious today, though. Every Captain Courageous in captivity has a “burner” something, be it a phone number in Pocatello, a Twitter handle with two followers (wouldn’t you like to meet them?) or an email address heavy with 9’s and X’s.

E-mail and voicemail are time-honored methods of communication for gutless wonders. Newspaper editors have borne the brunt of such vitriol, unsigned and unidentified, since the turn of the century. Before that it was the snail-mail letter, etched in big, block script, with no return address.

I don’t want sympathy. Here’s the difference: I knew the drill from the first day I walked through the doors at 104 Park Street as a 16-year-old sports clerk (and as part of a generation whose parents encouraged us to fight our own battles with coaches and teachers, then usually took their side, I might add.)

We all make something at least close to a living wage doing this stuff. Coaches and referees earn a relative pittance to give up nights, weekends, summers and quality time with their families, giving back to games they still recognize have given them so much.

When you factor in all the hours Lippert and the other 70-plus varsity football coaches in Maine devote to putting their players in the best possible position to win games and learn life lessons, it’s volunteer work.

My goal in further exposing this foolishness isn’t to curry sympathy for Lippert, who by the way wears a state championship ring, helps build programs other than his own by overseeing a summer passing camp, and is one of the good guys in the business. He’s a big boy whose credentials speak for themselves. He can handle it.

I put it out there because I can promise you Lippert wasn’t the only coach who received a nasty-gram before hunters had finished their breakfast Saturday morning. I sound the alarm because I know outstanding leaders of men in the Sun Journal coverage area hear this crap on a regular basis whether they’re 8-0 or 0-8.

The vast majority of people who attend high school football games understand that the final score is secondary to the benefits our sons, nephews, neighbors and future community leaders enjoy.

We understand that the coaches, players and officials are human. We know not all decisions will be perfect. We go to have fun and because it’s a two-hour break from all the other pettiness and strife in the world.

We’re the ones who need to speak up. It doesn’t require having a newspaper column. Simply be a positive voice around your school and its teams whenever you get the chance.

And by all means, have the guts to identify yourself.

Kalle Oakes spent 27 years in the Sun Journal sports department. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. Keep in touch with him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @oaksie72.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: