It’s not a punishment, it’s an opportunity.
Matt Labrum, coach of the Union High School football team in Roosevelt, Utah, suspended his entire team due to their off-field behavior, but is giving each one of the student athletes the chance to earn back their spot.
Mr. Labrum was already concerned about issues including failing grades, disrespect to teachers, and skipping classes, but when a school guidance counselor came to him with a cyberbullying issue, that was the last straw, Deseret News reports.
A student at the school reported being bullied and harassed by members of the football team on the chat site ask.fm. Because ask.fm allows people to hurl insults anonymously, the school couldn’t be sure exactly who was doing the bullying, but the student believed it was members of the football team.
Coach Labrum met with the bullied student and apologized on behalf of his team.
“We were pretty open with (the players) about what we’d heard,” Coach Labrum told Deseret News. “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.”
Between the cyberbullying and other off-field issues, Coach Labrum decided to make a change.
“I think football molds character,” the coach said. “We want to help our parents raise their sons. We want to be a positive influence. We want to be an asset.”
To earn the privilege of wearing the Union High jersey, the coach set forth specific, character-building assignments:
- Community service
- Attend study hall and a class on character development
- Attend all classes; students with poor grades must show improvement
- Perform service for their families
- Write a report on all their actions
Community service project the student athletes have undertaken include volunteering at a community senior center: cleaning, weeding, washing windows, and participating in activities with residents.
The coach had the full support of the school’s administration, and once parents heard what was going on, they all agreed with the coach’s decision as well. That is probably the most amazing part of this whole story: none of the parents insisted that their precious snowflakes was above doing all this.
As of yesterday, all but nine students of the original 41 players had earned their spot back on the team, but the coach says those nine students are still working on it.
“It doesn’t mean they’re off the team,” the coach told Deseret News. “It means they won’t be playing this week. Most of them had done 85 or 90 percent of what they needed to.”
The school has since been flooded with calls and emails from news outlets. Anderson Cooper’s people called the coach on his cell phone. As national attention descends on the small Utah town, Coach Labrum is focused on making sure his team doesn’t lose sight of why they’re doing this.
“We told them, ‘This isn’t just Utah. We have an opportunity to be an inspiration to an entire nation by doing the right things, by following through — and not just this week. We need to continue to do the right things.”
Kudos to Coach Labrum, and to Union High’s administration for backing him. I hope more schools will take their lead. Kudos to the parents for not pitching a hissy. And yes, this is a great story. But it’s also a story about parents, schools, coaches, and students doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
It’s more than a little disturbing that we’re all this excited about teenagers being told to straighten up and fly right. What about all the kids who are decent all the time? The kids who show up to class and do the work because it’s what they’re supposed to do? The kids who do community volunteer work without the threat of not playing in Friday’s game?
Let’s not elevate these kids into heroes for now doing what they should have been doing all along.
Read a dad’s take on this story here on Babble: Why a Utah Football Coach Suspended His Team in Pursuit of Character
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto)
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