We have all heard the stories. A school run by the popularity of its sports programs. Athletes who ruled the school. Student-athletes provided all sorts of special exceptions. Thanks to both 1980s movies and very real activities, the entire tale has become almost cliche.
So much so that we have all just accepted it as the norm. Student-athletes hold a special position in many public schools. In many ways, they rule the school.
That is why it is so refreshing to see the actions recently taken by Matt Labrum, the head football coach of Union High School in Roosevelt, Utah. Football can be big business in Utah (it is no Florida, Texas, or Ohio, but you can guess the Friday night lights are just as bright). Labrum is an educator. An as such, he was concerned when he heard that many on his team were skipping class. And he was downright bothered when told that his players were engaged in cyberbullying of other classmates.
So the football coach drew his own red line. Following a recent game, Coach Labrum suspended his entire high school football team
. All student-athletes were relieved of their position. All were told to turn in their equipment and jerseys. The football team was shut down, as a result of behaviors not befitting student leaders.
As Cameron Smith of Yahoo Sports reports, it is having quite an impact:
“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.”
The early results, as documented in this terrific feature from the Deseret News, has been remarkable. Players showed up at school the following day — a Saturday — at 7 a.m. and were told how they could re-earn a spot on the team. Teenagers have been cleaning up area streets as part of new team-mandated community service work. They are attending character classes during hours when they previously would have been practicing.
Just as importantly, the team’s natural leaders are starting to realize that they need to be more vocal and step in to help those teammates who go astray. A key part of Labrum’s decision to suspend the entire team was borne of his frustration that the players who did live up to his expectations were not rising up taking control of the locker room. Now, that is changing. Only two of the team’s seven original captains were re-elected during the team meeting the day after the Judge Memorial loss.
Such actions are never easy. It isn’t every coach that is willing to cancel his season or take such a step. And it certainly isn’t every student-athlete who can respond to such an action in a meaningful, positive way. But the action and reaction in Roosevelt is one that gives us hope. We have leaders and learners who are able to do the right thing. And we have students who are willing to admit their shortcomings, take responsibility without blaming others, and change their behaviors for the better.
In an era where we only seem to hear about bad behaviors, both in our public schools and in sports, Coach Labrum and Union High help us find some nugget of good. Well done, Coach!