High school sports are supposed to be about building lifelong friendships, learning about the values of teamwork and hard work, and, most importantly, learning how to deal with adversity when the outcome does not go your way. In Texas, nothing is bigger than high school football and the Friday Night Lights experience. High school football games in Texas routinely draw over 10,000 to 15,000 people and the stadiums of some high schools are bigger and more expensive than most collegiate Division IAA and Division II football stadiums. It can be argued that the best-taught subject in many high schools throughout Texas is football. A recent incident, in which two Texas high school football players attacked a referee, will fire this debate anew, and many are calling for the harshest punishment allowable to be handed down.
On Friday, Sept. 4, 2015, 90 miles north of San Antonio, two high school football teams, Marble Falls and John Jay High School, played to a 15-9 Marble Falls victory. The story was not the score of the game, but what happened during the game that left a bad taste in the mouths of high school football fans. Two players from the John Jay team attacked a referee during the game. One player hit the referee in the back and the second player speared his helmet into the downed official’s back as he was lying on the ground. A video of the event makes it clear that the two players acted together to injure the official. As the investigation into the incident continues, both players have been suspended from the team and face possible expulsion from school.
This punishment is not enough. The two high school players involved should be brought up on charges, arrested and charged as adults. Instances of players attacking a referee are mostly unheard of; there have been many reports of parents going after referees, but few actual players have been reported doing this during the contest itself. If the students did this to any other school official or to anybody in the general public, they would surely be arrested and thrown out of school.
The investigation is ongoing, but according to ESPN, the governing body of Texas football is questioning whether or not the referees officiated the events of the highly contested game correctly. It does not matter what happened prior to this attack – the people involved should be held accountable. It has been reported that one assistant coach has been suspended by the Northridge School District for his role in the attack. The assistant coach reportedly had told some of the players to take care of this referee because he believed the official was cheating them. If this is found to be true, the coach should also be arrested and never allowed to work around young people again.
More important is what this says about the culture of big-time high school athletics. If the game was so important to the coaches and players that they were willing to attack and risk paralyzing a man over what they thought were unfair calls, it is time to take a look at the bigger picture. As for the two players who hit the referee, they are now saying that the referee was targeting them with racial slurs. Even if the investigation finds this to be true, it does not justify the use of violence. High school football is supposed to teach accountability and responsibility. The perpetrators of this cowardly act should be held responsible to the fullest letter of the law and given the harshest punishment allowable. High school athletics organizers as a whole need to address what happened in order to ensure it never happens again.
Opinion by Adam Hovorka
ESPN: Players claim Texas official used racial slur before, after incident
ESPN: Texas hearing calls HS coaches’ conduct into question over ref incident
ESPN: Texas school district suspends players after referee hit
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