High School Athletics Gone Bad

When your child gets involved in high school athletics there are certain expectations that are expected out of your child, their coaches, and the fans. Those expectations get a bit muddled when the lights get turned on for games. Having coached at the high school level I saw the competiveness of the coaches and players being used for good and I have also seen it not being used for good. Last night was one of those instances.

High school athletes are generally good kids. They are. However, these athletes are still kids who learn by what they see from adults. If adults portray positive behavior then kids tend to show positive behavior. If the actions by the adult are negative, then you get something that most adults find revolting.

High School football is a great sport. Period. It’s Friday night lights, it’s homecoming dances, and it’s kind of a community tradition in many towns across the country.

On Thursday night in Mesa, Arizona there was a game played between  Mesa High and Desert Ridge High on the junior varsity level. To say that the game was competitive would be a mistake. Desert Ridge was the better team and showed it in a 48-0 win. That’s not the story here.

At the beginning of every high school sporting event, the announcement is given about showing sportsmanship between players, coaches, and fans. Nobody wants to see anything get out of control because this is high school sports. This is a place where athletes are developing their skills, being taught how to win and lose with dignity, and showing respect towards one another during a hard fought competition.

It was a hard hitting game, some trash talking, and a ton of penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct. Mesa High even had a player or two ejected from the game for talking inappropriately during the game.

The customary tradition with any competitive sporting event in Arizona high school sports is to shake the hands of your opponent at the end of the game. That did not happen. Mesa High was waiting for the traditional handshake, but none came. Desert Ridge players were ushered by their coaches to one end of the football field. One coach was jumping up and down in an almost exuberant motion trying to get the Desert Ridge players to one end of the field. The Mesa High players were left holding the proverbial bag as they were shocked and stunned at what was happening.

The fans at the football game were shocked as well. The Mesa High Jackrabbit players had just been throttled by the Desert Ridge Jaguars and were ready to shake the hands of the victors. Denied. Sportsmanship denied.

The Jaguars not only didn’t shake the hands of the Jackrabbits, but they also danced around like they had won a state championship. This is junior varsity football, it’s not even Friday night lights. It’s Thursday night lights for what it is worth. Junior varsity kids are not ready for the big stage yet. These are the kids that still need to learn the fundamentals necessary to compete on the varsity level. Part of this learning is to figure out how to win gracefully and how to handle losing gracefully.

You learn those two things from your coaches. Evidently, the Desert Ridge JV football coaches don’t find this to be a big point of emphasis with their program.

The ironic part of this whole unfortunate situation is that the Desert Ridge varsity football coach was also in attendance. He stood by and did nothing. It’s his program. This is a representation of who he is evidently. Not a great look if you ask me and the fans that were in attendance.

Another part of the game that players must learn is how to win. In football, when you are up 35-0 and are clearly dominating the game, you know it’s time to take your foot off of the gas a bit. Nope, not Desert Ridge. The Jaguars decide to try an on-side kick when they are already up by five touchdowns. Let’s just rub salt in the wound there Desert Ridge.

I heard one coach for Desert Ridge who is also a police officer tell a Mesa player, “Back up, I’ll arrest you. I am a police officer.” The player wasn’t coming to do anything to the coach. One of the Mesa coaches was standing right next to the player and Desert Ridge coach and said “Go to your team, I have my team under control.”

“You mean, your sorry ass team?” Desert Ridge coach said.

Remember, this is a police officer. You know, protect and serve. Not humiliate 16 year old’s. The Mesa coach and player just walked away from the situation before it escalated into something even uglier.

The Desert Ridge players had to be escorted by security back to their bus. That is another not so great optic if you’re the coach of Desert Ridge. There were plenty of Desert Ridge parents who came over to the Mesa High side of the field and apologized for their team and coaches behavior. That was the positive aspect of all that mess on Thursday night.

The one thing missing were the JV coaches and especially the varsity coach coming to apologize. By not apologizing, Desert Ridge is telling everybody that this type of behavior is acceptable.

We know better Desert Ridge. It is not acceptable.

Now, I know this is the exception and not the rule in high school sports. However, this kind of behavior by coaches and players needs to be called out when it happens. This doesn’t represent every athlete or coach at Desert Ridge High School, but it does shine a bad light on some bad behavior being coached in the Desert Ridge football program.