As I have said before one of my extra curricular activities is that I am a High School sports official. And in the Fall of the year the sport I officiate is football. Too often as I officiate contests between teenage athletes be it in baseball,football or wrestling I get to see the bad side of people. I get to see unruly or abusive fans, coaches acting as anything but role models and kids that have no respect. Honestly as officials we are not blameless either I have witnessed a few officials that think they are bigger than the game as well. Truly it is mostly a positive experience and there are many many more good examples in high school sports than bad but as we all know one bad apple can ruin it for everyone. As an official if I have a memorable experience at a game it is mostly because I remember something bad, that is until my most recent contest.
We were scheduled to officiate a Varsity contest between two small schools. In Iowa where I officiate the smallest of schools play a variation of the traditional game that involves 8 players instead of 11. The field is 80 yards long instead of 100 and it is 10 yards narrower on each side. I won't bore you with the exceptions to the rules but mostly they are the same as the 11 man game. At this particular game the home team had to play their games at a local junior high school field because they did not have a home field of their own. Not only did they not have their own field but since the field was set up for the traditional 11 man game, cones marking the north endzone where located on the 20 yard line of the field. If a team scored in the north endzone and they wanted to kick a point after touchdown we all had to run to the other end of the field for the kick where the goal posts where a correct distance from the endzone. The field being a junior high field was not in very good shape so conditions where not the best for play.
The visiting team was 2-2 on the year however the home team had only won 1 game in its entire history. In fact they had been beaten by so soundly in all there previous contests that it was pretty obvious to the visiting coach and our officiating crew that this was going to be a lopsided game. At the coin toss the usual speech by us officials was given about good sportsmanship, hands were shook and the coin was flipped.
From the opening kickoff I could see this game was going to be different than anything I had officiated in a long time. I mean the play went as expected with the visiting team scoring every time they touched the ball. The home team on the other hand could not move the ball at all. It looked like a match up between a high school and a junior high team. By the end of the first quarter it was 50-0, halfway through the second the visiting team had not one starter on the field. This was all as expected.
What was not expected was this, the visiting team helping the home team up after every tackle, the visiting team obviously tackling so as to cause the least amount of injury when they had multiple opportunities to lay some vicious yet legal hits on a quarterback that was not very well protected. Both teams encouraging each other and complementing opponents on their game play. The won't quit attitude of a home team that could have laid down and accepted the inevitability of the loss or gotten sullen and pouted about how unfair it all was. They played until the final horn as if they were still in the game. The home town fans did nothing but encourage their team and they cheered as loud as I have ever heard when their team would make the rare first down or when they actually managed to score late in the game against the visiting second team.
When the game ended with a final score of 70-24 the teams did what all high school teams do and shook hands. Then something else happend that I have never seen in 8 years of officiating high school sports. The losing team, every single kid, came over to my officiating crew shook our hands and thanked us. Meanwhile the winning team as a group went to the sidelines in front of their fans and sang the school fight song. In this day and age who even knows the school fight song? These kids did and I thought I had been transported back 60 years to the days of leather helmets and 3 yards and a cloud of dust. Did I mention during this game my officiating crew heard not one, not one, negative comment from coaches, spectators, or players? I don't think that has ever happened, to me at least.
I will always remember this game, not because of the lopsided score, but because of the almost surreal display of sportsmanship in a day and age when too many high school fans, coaches, and players think this is the NFL and forget that high school sports is supposed to be teaching student athletes positive qualities that will help them in later life.
My hat is off to both teams, well done