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As we see it: Coaching Character

Last Friday in Grayson, some things happened that should have left all of us examining our feelings about sportsmanship, fair play, and appropriate boundaries. 

The game between the East Carter Raiders and the Tolsia (WV) Rebels was a rough one. Both sides had calls for unsportsmanlike conduct. Tolsia players were penalized several times for shoving East players out of frustration after they completed passes or came up from tackles without losing the ball. One of the assistant coaches on the East side yelled across the field repeatedly asking Tolsia coaches to stop their boys from engaging in such behavior. 

Things really came to a head, though, when East scored a touchdown in the third quarter. The ball carrier was tackled by Tolsia players in the end zone, but maintained control of the ball. When he came up after the tackle, ball in hand, one of the Tolsia players shoved him in frustration. This led to a fight. Since it was on Tolsia’s sideline, the entire Tolsia team entered into the fray – either to break up the fight or contribute to it, there was really no way to tell before things escalated. When it appeared as though the entire Tolsia team might be piling on their teammate, several East players rushed across the field, as did the coaching staff to break up the fight. 

Before things could be sorted by coaches and officials, though, some fans also apparently jumped the fence and joined the fracas. Video shot by a Tolsia parent shows someone who appears to be an adult – and clearly not a player or a coach – shoving Tolsia players as he worked his way into the center of the crowd. Whether he was a relative attempting to get to the East player at the center of the crowd, or just an irate fan taking advantage of the situation, we can’t say. 

What we can say is that an adult laying hands on a minor over frustration about a game, if that is what we are seeing in that parent’s video, is inexcusable. It does not matter if they were on “our side” or not. We cannot condone that type of action. 

If it was a parent or relative trying to remove a child they love from that midst of the situation, it becomes less clear. We can’t say we wouldn’t fight the proverbial “running buzz saw” for our children either. But concern over a child you love does not grant you license to hurt someone else’s child. Especially if they are not involved in the fight, which is what the parent video does appear to show. 

One of the things we hope sports teach our children is how to lose gracefully. The fact is, no one wins all the time. In fact, in most aspects of life, losing or failing happens a lot more often than winning or success. It’s an important thing to learn to deal with, and ideally sports are a great way to learn that lesson. 

We honestly can’t speak to how well Tolsia coach Eric Crum teaches that lesson, but the Tolsia community seems to support coach Crum and speaks highly of his contributions to the community on and off the field. We received several comments, emails, and phone calls from Tolsia parents in praise of coach Crum and his work in the days after the game, and we can say that he is beloved in his community. 

What we can speak to, though, is East Carter head coach Tim Champlin’s work with the Raiders. We commend Champlin for keeping a cool head during the game. Not only did he maintain control of his temper during circumstances that would have tried the patience of most, he continually coached his boys to take the high road during confrontations with the other team. He could be heard repeatedly telling his boys to put their hands in the air and back away from confrontation when the opposing team began shoving. This is good game strategy, as it guarantees there will be no confusion about who is responsible for escalating a situation and saves your team from a penalty. But it’s also a valuable lesson in dealing with and deescalating conflict. 

When these boys leave school and enter the workplace, they hopefully won’t be dealing with irate co-workers who try to physically shove them over disagreements. But they will still be dealing with conflict of one sort or another. Being able to maintain a cool head during heated conversations will serve them well, and we feel Champlin’s influence on the boys he coaches can help them learn to do just that. 

This doesn’t mean that Champlin isn’t tough. You can bet he isn’t easy on these boys, and that there will be a reckoning for those who decided to ignore their coach’s advice and join the fight. Champlin himself said as much on Friday night. But that’s another good lesson that he’s teaching the boys – you don’t have to physically bully or intimidate others to be strong. 

It’s a lesson that a few of our fans, as well as some Tolsia fans, could probably benefit from as well based on the fallout last Friday. While we can’t do anything about those adults, other than offer our typically Appalachian “bless their heart,” we can thank coach Champlin for being a positive role model to the boys he coaches. The “do as I say, not as I do,” strategy doesn’t work with teenagers. They have a keen eye for hypocrisy and double standards, and a tendency to call them out. Luckily Champlin – in his role as a coach – embodies the calm self-control that he also demands of his players. 

We’re lucky to have a man like him working with the youth in our community.

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