published Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

Clear eyes, full hearts: Marion County team is stronger than its coaches

Jasper Elementary students line the school cul de sac to support the Marion County football team as they leave for their game in Trousdale County.
Jasper Elementary students line the school cul de sac to support the Marion County football team as they leave for their game in Trousdale County.
Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

It's too, too bad the young men on Marion County High School's football team haven't had Coach Eric Taylor as their leader and role model.

Yes, Taylor is fictional, played on the television series "Friday Night Lights" by actor Kyle Chandler. But even a TV character would have done better by this team of more than 50 fine players.

The Warriors took to the field again Friday night with a new leader. Longtime assistant coach Larry Richards guided them in their TSSAA Class 2A quarterfinal game at second-ranked Trousdale County.

Most of their other coaches let them down. Police say they vandalized their own Warrior fieldhouse and accused rival South Pittsburg. They acknowledged taking playbooks from rivals. They acted more juvenile than the young men they coached -- and all in the name of winning.

"That [expletive] is funny! [Expletive] them. I hope we beat their [expletive] and are ready to fight after game!" assistant coach and economics/government teacher Michael Schmitt texted fellow assistant coach Tim Starkey on Oct. 29 after Starkey had texted Schmitt to brag about taking the South Pittsburg team's offensive play sheets.

Marion County head coach Mac McCurry -- with a career win-loss record of 239-71 -- resigned this week after Schmitt and another assistant coach and physical education teacher, Joe Dan Gudger, were arrested and charged with vandalizing the Warriors' fieldhouse with South Pittsburg colors and logos the night before a Marion County and South Pittsburg game. Starkey was relieved of his duties after school officials saw the text messages.

The texts, obtained by Times Free Press Assistant Sports Editor Stephen Hargis, indicate McCurry ordered the vandalism and also paid a former college player to practice with the team, which isn't permitted under Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association rules.

Remember the childhood chant: Cheaters never prosper? In this case, it played out. South Pittsburg beat Marion County 35-17.

On Friday, Hargis reported that parents and supporters throughout the region rallied around a team that had nothing to do with its coaches' poor decisions and pathetic examples.

A cheering throng of people lined Betsy Pack Drive as the busload of players and remaining coaches began the two-hour ride to Trousdale County, making a detour along the way through Kimball where another group of well-wishers -- a contingent from rival South Pittsburg -- waved the Warriors forward.

It's a new day and a new game, kids.

As Coach Taylor said to his boys in one "Friday Night Lights" episode:

"A few will never give up on you. When you go back out on the field, those are the people I want in your minds. Those are the people I want in your hearts."

Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.

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