I missed the tackle. During a scrimmage, the star wide receiver took advantage of a sophomore lineman who was trying to learn to play cornerback. He faked left, swiveled right and my feet didn’t move.

My backside did, after my football coach’s heavy cleat lifted it and me. He screamed my name. A hand grabbed me by the back of the neck.

That hand and the index finger on his other pointed me in the direction of my high school’s tennis courts and then the soccer field. Tomorrow, said the junior varsity coach, go to one or the other because I was surely not a football player.

Coach Grasso, bless his departed soul, must have been trying to motivate me.

I don’t know exactly what happened on the practice field at Messalonskee High last week. Head coach Wes Littlefield was suspended, investigated by the Oakland police, and resigned. Tuesday he was charged with simple assault on a player, a misdemeanor.

Everyone directly involved has remained mum. Everyone else not involved has taken sides. Old schoolers believe football is a physical game coached best by men who should get physical with their players if it drives home a lesson.

Others believe nothing should warrant the reaction from a coach that leads to the charge of simple assault. It shouldn’t even be a discussion. Want your players’ attention and respect? Earn it. Want your players to buy in to what you believe? Tell them why they should.

The days of punching, slapping or kicking a player to get them right should be so far gone, it’s amazing we’re talking about it.

“Today, kids won’t run through the brick wall everyone talks about,” said John Suttie, a former coach and now the first-year assistant principal at Bonny Eagle High. “Unless you tell them why. You need to allow kids to question what you’re doing.”

No, the game of football can’t be a democracy. It’s not one player, one vote. But every player should be heard.

Today’s high school players aren’t softer. Typically, they’re better athletes. Typically, they’re just as motivated as their fathers or grandfathers when they played.

“Kids haven’t changed,” said Suttie. “Everything around them has.”

Suttie coached Noble High to the 1997 Class A championship. Then he joined Kevin Cooper’s coaching staff at Bonny Eagle and won four more titles. Suttie and Cooper were teammates at Lawrence High, where Coach Pete Cooper, father to Kevin, nearly lost his job over a physical confrontation in the locker room. For years, Pete Cooper has said he was wrong that day.

Pete Cooper is on the Bonny Eagle coaching staff. Sometimes Suttie and Kevin Cooper would joke about the times Pete Cooper called Lawrence players by girls’ names. Hey, Bill Parcells did that in the 1990s when he coached the New England Patriots.

Pete Cooper doesn’t like the joking. It was wrong, he’s told Suttie. He shouldn’t have shamed his players even if they laugh about it now.

Over the past week, the old stories of football coaches getting physical have come back. Coaches breaking clipboards over the heads of players. Coaches breaking noses. That happened to Littlefield, who was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time when his demonstrative head coach waved his clipboard, not realizing his star running back was standing so close behind him.

Yes, Littlefield fought in the state Toughman competition about 20 years ago when raw amateurs walked out of the crowd to climb into the ring. A short man, Littlefield gave away inches in height and reach but kept boring in. He eventually earned a trip to the national Toughman competition in Las Vegas, where he lost.

More recently he’s been a mixed martial arts fighter, where virtually anything goes in the cage. Having careers in a ring or a cage doesn’t make him a bad football coach or a bad person. If the charge of simple assault is true, he made a bad decision.

Coaches and parents tell their players and children to think. Five seconds or five minutes of a bad decision can ruin a season, a career or a life.

I didn’t go to the soccer field or the tennis courts the next day so many years ago. I didn’t quit over a kick to the backside, although it did knock the joy of playing football out of me. In the locker room, more talented teammates came up to say they’d back me if I went to the athletic director. Apparently when I got kicked, many of them felt it.

Was that the lesson so many years ago? Neither the varsity nor junior varsity teams had very good seasons. I never said anything to the athletic director or head coach.

“Every kid wants to be treated fairly,” said Mike Mealey, an assistant coach at Lawrence High for 32 years. “They want you to listen to them. Otherwise you can’t develop trust. You want to get kids to the point where they don’t want you to be disappointed in them.”

Instead of players feeling disappointed in their coach.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveSolloway

 


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