Team learns the hard way that spots are earned

Last week, there was news that a Utah high school football coach suspended his entire team over poor discipline and cyber-bullying.

When I first heard about the coach’s radical decision I thought it was impressive that he stood so firmly against those issues. But another thought also went through my head:  did the coach take disciplining his athletes a little too far?

Here’s a little more of a backstory. Union High School football coach Matt Labrum had grown frustrated with reports of his players skipping class, receiving poor grades and allegedly cyber-bullying a fellow student.

After the cougars’ loss against rival Judge Memorial Catholic High School, head coach Matt Labrum told all of his players that they were no longer a team and that all the athletes had to turn in their jerseys.

In total, 80 boys left the locker room with their head held low and some in tears, but amazingly both the athletes and their parents were not angry with the coach’s decision. Some parents commented that the coach was just giving the kids a good life lesson by trying to change these boys into men.

And how exactly are the coaches attempting to do that?

Well, after the team had been disbanded, the coach held a 7 a.m. meeting the following day on how the players could earn their spots back. In a letter written and signed by all the coaches, it outlined that the players had the opportunity to earn their spots back by cleaning-up streets around their community as part of new team-mandated community service work, mandatory study hall sessions, in addition to attending character classes during hours when they previously would have been practicing.

In addition to cleaning up the teenagers’ acts, the coach also re-assigned new captains which were based on a vote by the team.  Only two of the original seven were voted back as team captains.

“We looked at it as a chance to say, ‘hey, we need to focus on some other things that are more important than winning a football game,’” Labrum told the Deseret News. “We got an emotional response from the boys. I think it really meant something to them, which was nice to see that it does mean something. There was none of them that fought us on it.”

After days of community service, most of Utah football team reinstated, just in time for the Cougars’ homecoming game. The coach is praised, not only by the community, but by the nation as a role-model teaching his players that there is more to football than getting wins.

Union High School head coach’s philosophy reminded me of Linfield’s head football coach, Joe Smith’s philosophy. In one of my earlier articles this year, I wrote about what makes a successful team. Coach Smith explained to me about the four pillars that helps make a team successful: team, excellence, attitude and class. Coach Smith also emphasizes that “If the team fails, it is always a combined product of every member of that team.”

So in retrospect, the suspension of the football team at Union High school was an example of a coach’s tough love towards his players in order to teach them a life lesson which can be implemented not only on the field but throughout their adult lives.

Camille Weber/ Sports columnist