There’s no doubt that Friday night’s loss to Morgan was not how the Grantsville football team envisioned their homecoming night.
It was the Cowboys’ region opener, against one of their oldest rivals, and the most anticipated home game of the season with all the pageantry surrounding homecoming week. A loss under those circumstances is tough to swallow.
But it was made worse by things that happened outside the field of play, and spilled over after the game.
Full disclaimer: I realize what I’m about to say may upset people. I realize I may get some backlash for it. But I wouldn’t put my name out there in print if I didn’t have a fairly thick skin.
So, here goes.
I don’t know if the fan in question is a parent or relative of one of the players, or merely someone who bleeds Grantsville red and lives for the Friday night lights when the Cowboys are on the field. I grew up in a small town myself, so I know the connection the community has with its high school football team.
But there is one key thing to remember here: these are kids playing a game. Few, if any, of the players who suited up for the Cowboys or the Trojans will be wearing a college football uniform on Saturdays after they graduate. Sure, winning is important to them, but above all, they’re out there to learn life lessons and to have fun. Those are the memories that will stick with them — not the wins and losses.
But as Friday’s game went on, and the Cowboys fell behind, and their passing attack wasn’t clicking, one fan in particular began loudly expressing his frustration from the stands, directing it at both individual players and coaches.
That’s all well and good if you’re at a professional sporting event. It’s even acceptable at a college game, given the tens of thousands of dollars those athletes receive in financial aid in order to get a free education should they decide to stick it out. High school athletes, especially at a small school like Grantsville, pay to play. And, again, they are kids. I’ve been around high school athletics for the better part of 20 years now, so I’ve heard it all. What I heard Friday night was among the worst. It was everything I could do not to turn around and say something myself.
After the game ended, it was obvious the emotions were running high for the Grantsville players and coaches. They wanted to win more than anything. To his credit, Cowboys coach Kody Byrd took the time to talk to me for a couple minutes about what went wrong — an unenviable task after such a tough outcome.
But then the frustrated fan came up to Byrd and began questioning his coaching tactics. To his face. On the field, in front of many of his players, including the one whose performance he had been criticizing from the stands. Again, to his credit, Byrd kept his composure. I don’t know that I would have. Ultimately, one of the assistant coaches had a brief discussion with the fan, trying to defuse the situation.
Quite simply, this behavior has no place in high school sports. This isn’t the National Football League, with its talk-radio shows and social-media rants about every single play. A moment like this is evidence that perhaps our priorities have become skewed.
I’m not saying that wins and losses aren’t important in high school sports. Nobody wants to struggle. It’s just that there are far more important elements to it. And as long as the players are having fun and making memories, that’s really what matters.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He appreciates passionate sports fans as long as they keep their priorities in check. Email him at email@example.com.