By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer
Utah’s Union High School head football coach, Matt Labrum, believes that football creates men of excellence. So, when he saw his players acting disrespectfully to teachers, skipping classes, and cyberbullying students, Labrum knew something had to be done. “We felt like everything was going in a direction that we didn’t want our young men going,” said Labrum, who’s coached for the past two years. “We felt like we needed to make a stand.”
One of the school’s guidance counselors told the coaches that a student felt bullied by the football players in an online chat program called ask.fm. Labrum met with the student on Monday and apologized for the cruel words of his players. “We were pretty open with (the players) about what we’d heard. We don’t want that represented in our program… Whoever it is (doing the bullying), we want to help get them back on the right path,” said the coach. Even the teachers weren’t being treated well by the football players, and Labrum grew concerned that his team wasn’t “respecting the teachers, what they were trying to do inside the school, other people’s time. Overall, our program wasn’t going where we wanted it to go. We weren’t reaching the young men like we wanted to reach them.”
After a loss on Friday night to Judge Memorial Catholic High School, the coach brought together the team and gave them a very serious talk. He expressed his concern about their behavior off the field and then shocked them by asking every single player to turn in their jerseys and equipment. Unless they made a serious effort to make up for their wrongs, they would not be allowed to play.
Waiting outside the school that evening, Jenn Rook, the mother of one of the football players, said, “They were in the locker room for a really long time. They came out, and there were tears. Those boys were wrecked. My son got in the car really upset and (said), ‘First of all, there is no football team. It’s been disbanded.’” One of the juniors, Jordan Gurr, was also quite surprised. “When they said we’re going to turn our jerseys in, I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve never been cut.’ I figured we’d just been cut. There were no more games. I was sad,” he expressed.
A 7am meeting was scheduled for the very next day, and every player was told they’d have a chance to prove themselves to the community. Labrum laid out the situation very clearly to the boys, making sure they understood that “we need to focus on some other things that are more important than winning a football game.” The message seemed to get through, because they “got an emotional response from the boys. I think it really meant something to them, which was nice to see that it does mean something. There was none of them that fought us on it.”
Rather than practicing for the next game, football players performed community service, went to study hall, and took a class on building good character (positive inner qualities). They had to attend all of their regular school classes, show up on time, and raise bad grades. Their volunteer activities also included visiting senior citizens at the Senior Villa in Roosevelt, fixing local buildings, and cleaning up weeds.