Tyner Academy football coach Wayne Turner could have looked the other way. His Rams just 2-4 on the season, no one would likely have questioned the eligibility of any of his players. No one might ever have known but Turner himself.
But most guys don't enter their 39th year of coaching, worn down yearly by long hours and unremarkable pay, without a fair amount of integrity. So on Tuesday afternoon, Turner called his team together and told them he'd made a mistake. A paperwork error had allowed an ineligible athlete to play in the Rams' two wins over Central and Soddy-Daisy.
"We're always preaching to the kids to do the right thing," Turner said on Wednesday. "Sometimes there are tough consequences for your actions. I told them this was my fault, and that I would assume full responsibility for this. It was an honest mistake, but forfeiting these games was the only solution."
This column isn't solely about Turner's thankfully high standards as much as several entities that have recently fallen short of such commendable behavior.
Whether it's the Atlanta Braves, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association or at least one emotionally disturbed Houston Texans fan, the last few days have been another sad reminder that sportsmanship and character are too often lacking.
We'll start with KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett, who issued the following directive on Tuesday to his member schools: "It is directed that teams and individuals to not participate in organized post game handshake lines/ceremonies."
By Wednesday, after pressure from state government officials and national media, Tackett backtracked, saying it was merely a recommendation, not a rule. Almost immediately, high school board of educations throughout the Commonwealth -- including both Louisville and Lexington -- said they would continue the handshake lines, despite several recent fights, which was what brought about Tackett's original memo.
Said Jeff Hoover, a Republican from Jamestown and the state's minority floor leader: "I think the most important thing we can do as adults is teach kids responsibility and basic civility. The most important thing about sports is sportsmanship"
Said Turner. "I hope we never have a situation like that here. I'll start by giving the TSSAA a lot of credit. They do a tremendous job of promoting great sportsmanship. I've never heard of incidents of fighting in Tennessee. think those post-game handshakes show a lot of class from both sides."
Some would argue that neither Chipper Jones nor the Braves showed much sportsmanship or class in the hours prior to to Atlanta's Game One loss to LA at Turner Field in the NLDS.
Appearing on radio station 680 The Fan, Jones reportedly picked LA to win in four games in the best-of-five format. Miffed by his pick, the Braves then decided none of them would catch Chipper's ceremonial first pitch. So the team's mascot, Homer the Brave, caught Jones.
Maybe Chipper shouldn't have given his opinion. For their part, the Braves -- who fell all over themselves a year ago to praise Chipper as the perfect teammate during his final season on the field -- should have handled this internally if it bothered them.
And if they were really, really mad, they should have proved him wrong rather than making him a prophet by losing in four games.
But as petty as the Braves' actions may have been toward their future Hall of Famer -- who also didn't exactly distinguish himself by tweeting something about such a stunt NEVER happening again -- both the KHSAA and the Braves pale in comparison to the actions of one very disgruntled Texans fan.
Apparently angered by quarterback Matt Schaub's recent interceptions -- he's thrown one for an opposing touchdown in four straight games, an NFL record -- the fan showed up at the Schaub home on Monday to take pictures of the player's family and shower the QB with obscenities.
Both NFL security folks and the Houston Police Department have downgraded the incident over the past 24 hours, saying it was a lone male instead of several fans, as was originally reported. Still, while any fan who buys a ticket has a right to boo, that's kind of where his rights end. Tracking the player down at his home and attempting to take pictures of the residence so they can supposedly reach the Internet is over the top at the least, if not downright scary on several fronts.
It is folly to say that sports played at the highest level should be treated as nothing more than a brief diversion from real life, if only because no one's going to pay today's prices for tickets, parking and concessions to satisfy the need for a brief diversion.
Like it or not, sports have become a second religion for many, each game day a cause to rearrange our schedules so as not to miss a minute. Fair or not, such passion is sure to test the boundaries of sportsmanship and perspective.
But this is also true, or should be: Wrote Jefferson County (Louisville, Ky.) Assistant Superintendent Kirk Lattimore on Wednesday regarding his school system's decision to continue handshakes -- "Teaching our students to win and lose graciously are life lessons that we hope and expect coaches to embrace. Very few of our students will become college and professional athletes. However, ALL of them need to demonstrate character at crucial times."
If only more men like Turner would practice those words rather than merely preach them.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...