By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
It was an email NCS commissioner Gil Lemmon sent to one individual Monday but in the perfect world he so earnestly seeks to attain in high school athletics, Lemmon would like his message to El Cerrito principal David Luongo to be read, welcomed and practiced by all in his jurisdiction. Without exception.
Responding to the events that occurred during and after last Friday’s NCS semifinal football game between Analy and El Cerrito at DeAnza High School in Richmond, Lemmon outlined for Luongo the conduct he expects to see this Saturday night when El Cerrito plays Marin Catholic for the Division III championship. It’s conduct, Lemmon said, he expects out of all his NCS teams, but some references were specific to the events of last Friday.
On the El Cerrito sidelines, Lemmon wrote, only football equipment will be permitted.
“There was a reported baseball bat on the (El Cerrito) sidelines,” Lemmon said. “I was told there was a coach hitting the bat into the palm of his hand saying, ‘Let’s put a hurtin’ on the other team.’ That is inappropriate and unacceptable.”
Lemmon interviewed the on-site game officials after the game and was convinced inappropriate language was used.
“I wrote they should promote positive coaching on the sidelines,” Lemmon said. “There should be no trash-talking, no matter what. There can be no foul-mouth behavior.”
Lemmon said that Chris Heller, the Analy principal, told him that he did not see a baseball bat on the El Cerrito sideline.
“It may not be true,” Lemmon said, “but I’m not going to take that chance.”
Lemmon also wrote to Luongo that he expects good sportsmanship to be practiced, to the extent that a player lend a hand to bring an opposing player to his feet after a play.
“I know that may be pie-in-the-sky,” said Lemmon, in his fifth year as NCS commissioner.
Lemmon said he did not write a similar email to Analy because the Tigers’ season is over. He would not characterize Analy’s behavior as any more or less egregious than El Cerrito’s.
“I’m not going to say who was more or less to blame,” Lemmon said. “But I do think there was fault on both sides.”
In attendance Friday, Lemmon was shocked to see the players and coaches from both teams not shaking hands afterward. Richmond police recommended at the time that both teams disperse.
“Any time we end a game like that, it’s a failure,” Lemmon said. “It was unfortunate. Shaking hands is a tradition. Players should do that to honor the players from the other team. We need to give the opponent credit. Both teams knew, as in all games, one team would lose. We need to honor those who provided that competition.”
Lemmon wouldn’t elaborate further about his thoughts or feelings about Friday’s situation. Lemmon, however, had no problem offering his opinion about a general trend he sees today in high school sports — in which players don’t hesitate to scream insults at an opponent.
“I believe if you can’t say something good about someone,” said Lemmon, in his 18th year at NCS, “you shouldn’t say anything at all. I know that makes me old-school. But what I see happening is this idea of (verbal) intimidation. I hate it. It’s one of the biggest hurdles I face as commissioner. Players, coaches, everyone, they need to respect the opponent.”
Casa Grande coach Trent Herzog, for one, has become well-aware of this change in high school football.
“I’ve been seeing something like this (verbal bullying) develop in the last two, three years,” Herzog said, “and it’s not necessarily getting better.”
Emotion is contagious, spreads faster than the eye can see, especially during a high-stress game like football. Both Herzog and Lemmon agree, as well as most who have been around the game, edgy people in the stands can provide the tipping point that leads to a melee. In 2006, in Tuscaloosa, Ala., for example, six people were arrested at a game in which 23 police officers were working the game.
“In any sport,” Lemmon said, “greater attention can come to it when a team makes it to the playoffs. People who have never been to a game notice their city is involved and they show up. A greater cross section like that can lead to problems from people who don’t know what high school athletics is about.”
Rancho Cotate coach Ed Conroy experienced a situation a few years ago when the Cougars were playing Castlemont of Oakland. Enthusiasm turned into rowdiness and that turned into a palatable fear, which led to local police providing the Rancho team bus an escort to the closest freeway. Conroy said it was the first and only time his team bus needed protection. It is certain those who necessitated that police escort missed the intended purpose of that football game.
“We are conducting an educational athletic event,” Lemmon said. How to behave under pressure, that’s one lesson for both player and spectator.
“A coach has to act a certain way and then his players act a certain way. That sets a tone. It sends a message to the spectators. Sportsmanship is great but you can’t let your guard down.”
Why? Coaches in all sports look for an advantage, an opening, to exert influence. In football it may be something as simple as knowing a big run is always available if the running back follows that big left tackle. Or it may be trying to find that emotional edge, to give the players an extra push. The intimidation Lemmon spoke of, in other words, is like driving a sledgehammer into the ground.
“This is high school football,” Herzog said. We (coaches) should all be here for one reason — to give our kids the greatest time of their lives in the greatest sport. No one (coach) as far as I know uses high school football to climb the ladder (to college or the NFL). I tell my kids all the time: ‘Isn’t this great! We have an opportunity to play this game. So respect the game, respect your opponent.’ I don’t know if everyone is teaching that.”
The email Lemmon sent to the El Cerrito principal should be considered standard reading by anyone coaching high school athletics, although most of it is contained in the CIF handbook. Charitably, the email might be considered a mid-course adjustment and reminder — after all, not even half of the high school sports year has played out.
However it is seen, loss of control during or after a sporting event must always be viewed with a draconian possibility.
In October of last year in Georgia, there was a brawl after a high school football game. David Daniel, the head coach of Warren County, was hospitalized. He had surgery to repair broken bones around his right eye, cheek and nose.
As Gil Lemmon might say, that was an educational athletic event all right, a lesson, frankly, that never should have had to be taught.
You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.